Broken When They Needed To Leave: LI Rabbi, Wife Flee Ukraine – Patch

Posted By on March 8, 2022

HEWLETT, NY A rabbi from Long Island traveled to Ukraine weeks ago for what was meant to be a celebration of happiness in his new wife's hometown of Dnipro. But when Russia invaded on Feb. 24, Menachen Lessoff and Daniela Brez were forced to choose between staying to help the Jewish community and other refugees or fleeing for their own safety, Rabbi Nochem Tenenboim of Chabad of Hewlett told Patch.

Lessoff was the Bar Mitzvah Club leader at Chabad of Hewlett, where the community tried to stay in touch with the newlyweds as the conflict broke out.

"People tried to talk them out of having their wedding there," Rabbi Tenenboim said. "But it was [Brez'] dream to have the wedding in her hometown, where her family was from."

Dnipro is in western Ukraine, and hasn't yet been shelled by the Russians. It has become a de facto staging ground to assist refugees fleeing eastern Ukrainian cities currently under attack. But as Russian forces push westward, the relative safety diminishes by the day.

At first, the Lessoffs wanted to stay and assist others. But ultimately it became too dangerous, and the newlyweds decided they could be of more help to fleeing refugees outside Ukraine. On Thursday night, they escaped via train to Hungary.

The train trip took 22 hours instead of the normal four, Rabbi Tenenboim said.

The Chabad community in Hewlett has tried to help by sending supplies, money and specific Jewish items unavailable in Ukraine. Boys from Lessoff's bar mitzvah group sent videos of support and letters, along with prayers.

"They know they are not alone, that's an important thing," Rabbi Tenenboim said.

The couple now plan to resettle in Vienna, Austria, where there is an active Chabad community. Their story is playing out across Ukraine. Jewish communities that fought hard to rebuild after the Holocaust and Holodomor a Soviet-engineered famine that killed millions are now forced to flee their homes again.

"The rabbis try to stay until the very last moment," Tenenboim said, adding that he's been in contact with Jewish leaders from Chabads across Ukraine. "They were very broken when they needed to leave. But they said it is the right thing to leave, and they will rebuild, and we will help them."

Jews on Long Island "should be very involved" in the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine, he said. Those who want to help can send gestures of support and donate directly to Chabads in Ukraine through Chabad of Hewlett's website.

As it becomes possible to ship donations again, the Chabad plans to coordinate those efforts as well.

"God willing there will be only peace and no more suffering. We are watching the developments to see where we can help," the rabbi said. "We are watching."

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Broken When They Needed To Leave: LI Rabbi, Wife Flee Ukraine - Patch

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