It is with a broken heart that I offer condolences to the family of Rebbetzin Sharon Shenker OB”M. The dynamic and exuberant Rebbetzin Shenker worked within the Aish family for twenty five years. As the Co-Founder and Co-Director of Aish LA’s Jewish Women’s Initiative (JWI), she brought many hundreds of Jewish women to Israel, connecting them to their heritage. To know Rebbetzin Shenker was to love her. She inspired everyone with whom she came into contact. May the Almighty comfort her family during this difficult time. The local community is raising funds to help this family, who has devoted so much to the Jewish people. To contribute, click here.
Many times I am asked how I decide where to travel on behalf of Aish. I usually quote the famous bank robber Willie Sutton who, when asked by a reporter why he robbed banks he replied, “because that’s where the money is.” I generally try to go where the Jews are and perhaps, most importantly, where they can use my help. When Chief Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman of Ukraine came to visit me in Jerusalem, I asked how I could help. He suggested that I come to strengthen the resolve of the Jews of Ukraine. I immediately said I would try my best to come.
Generally, when I discuss my travel plans with those around me they are fairly supportive. This was the one time that I found myself getting feedback that perhaps I should wait until the war ends. While I heard their concerns loud and clear, I have tried hard throughout my years in service of the Jewish people to try to lift up the spirits of Jews around the world. I felt very strongly that no one needs my love more than the Jews of the Ukraine. So this Shabbos I am in Kyiv celebrating with my Ukrainian brothers and sisters.
I will give a more thorough report of my visit to Ukraine next week. All of the airports in Ukraine are closed so the only way to get to Kyiv is to drive across the border. I made arrangements to fly into Moldova and then drive seven hours to Kyiv. Seeing as I had landed in Moldova, I used the opportunity to meet the Jews there and see first hand the refugee work being done. I was picked up at the airport in Moldova by Rabbi Azman’s son-in-law, Chaim Klimovitsky and Yitzchak Chalfon. Chaim has arranged my whole trip and is one of the heroes who helped Jewish refugees during the early days of the war. Yitzchak was living in Kharkov when the war broke out and personally helped relocate the entire community. I was so moved by their personal accounts.
The next day I went to visit with the Jewish community of Moldova which is home to the main coordinating organization for refugees. Overnight they had to help tens of thousands of Jewish refugees find food, medicine and shelter. They converted their gym into a shelter for women and children. One of the health workers told me stories of helping Jews who came to Moldova in the middle of their cancer treatment. Others had children with various disabilities and didn’t know where to turn. It was a truly moving day spent with the Jews of Moldova.
There were two themes that struck me in Moldova. First, the needs of the Ukrainian Jews are far from over. They are still displaced and as time goes on they feel forgotten. We must demonstrate to them that Jews never forget Jews. We must be there for them. The second powerful message I walked away with is that Jewish heroes come in all shapes and sizes. When the going gets tough for our community that is when the best comes out. Whether it’s Rebbetzin Shenker who dedicated her life to spiritually uplifting the Jewish community of LA, or the sweet Jews of Moldova who jumped into action to physically take care of Ukrainian Jewry, they are all heroes. The Almighty’s heroes.