Clarification and Update:
Wording in the title of this article has been changed from “Rabbi in Crimea Escapes with Torah Scroll” to “Rabbi in Crimea Makes it Out on the Last Train”, to avoid any potential misunderstanding that Rabbi Yitzchok Meyer Lipszyc may have stolen the Torah from the Crimea war zone, or abandoned his community in its time of need.
The Torah was moved to a safer location in Simferopol, and Rabbi Lipszyc was advised by his superiors at Chabad headquarters to temporarily move his center of operations out of Crimea. The Rabbi is still working with his community via Skype, phone and email.
JewishPress.com apologizes for any misunderstanding the title may have caused if read out of context from the text of the article.
Crimea’s Chabad Rabbi Yitzchak Meyer Lipszyc escaped Simferopol with his wife on the last train that left the area before the Russian sealed it off.
“The main action in Crimea was taking place right across the street from our synagogue,” said Rabbi Lipszyc, who has been a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, for more than two decades. “There were demonstrations with over 30,000 people. The protestors were pro-Ukrainian. But eventually the ones who took over were in the unidentified uniforms—they were obviously Russian military. There was Cossacks there too; for Jews that was a bit scary because of their history in the pogroms.”
Lipszyc spoke told JNS.org, “For the last 22 years under the Ukrainian government, everything has been going very well. When this situation began, it turned things upside down. We were told by Chabad headquarters to get out and we barely made it out. My wife in fact got the last two tickets on a train out of Simferopol on the night before everything got sealed off by the Russians.
He said that despite the referendum that was almost unanimous for annexation by Russia, the thinks “most of the people wanted to stay with Ukraine, because that was what they were familiar with, but then when the Russians took over the media and propaganda switched the other way, within days we saw it swing towards being overwhelmingly pro-Russian.’
The situation is even worse for Americans like the rabbi, he added. “Americans were persona-non-gratis for both Ukrainians and Russians at this time. For Russians it is because of the stance the American government has taken against Russia. While on the Ukraine side they are deeply disappointed that America is not doing enough to help them.
“Oddly enough we had to leave there more because we were Americans and not because we were Jewish.”
Nevertheless, the atmosphere was anything but comfortable for Jews. Rabbi Lipszyc said that the Russian troops cordoned off the synagogue and that he and his wife moved to their house.
At his wife’s suggestion, they decided to move away as far as possible and wrote a note to the Lubavitcher Rebbe to ask his help to get them out.
“Believe it or not, when our friend reached the military checkpoint, he explained to them that we needed to retrieve the Torah out of the synagogue, [the Russian soldier] suddenly moved out of the way and removed the barriers to let him,” according to the rabbi. “On his way out, the solider actually even apologized to him for the inconvenience, which was unheard of there! It was a miracle. We were able to move our Torahs to a safer location in Simferopol, where services were held for several weeks.””
Despite anti-Semitism, Jews are able to practice without interference. However, he noted, “We have to prepare for Passover and need to raise a lot of money to help with the extra costs. We not only need extra security, but we have taken loses during the process.
“We were getting our kosher meat from Ukraine; we had ordered and paid for it, but they [Russian forces] didn’t let it through. We also paid for the Matzos, but that didn’t get through either. We need to figure out how to all our supplies through now. We are appealing to everyone to help out the Jewish community there.”
Sam Kliger, the American Jewish Committee’s director of Russian Jewish community affairs, told JNS.org that according to international law and most Western observers, the referendum was illegitimate.
“In 1991, Crimea went to independent Ukraine because, since 1954, it was part of Ukrainian Soviet Socialistic Republic which in turn was an integral part of the Soviet Union,” said Kliger. “That is why nobody really cared. As long as it was a part of the USSR, it did not really matter whether it is formally a part of Russia or Ukraine. Now Russia, using as pretext the instability created by Ukrainian revolution and imaginary ‘discrimination’ against ethnic Russians, just grabbed the opportunity to return Crimea to where, according to Russia, it historically belongs.”