Photo Credit: United Hatzalah
UH volunteers buying food in the local supermarket in Kishinev (photo not taken on Shabbat).

My name is Yossi Kletzky and I was one of the first team members to be sent to the Ukrainian border in Moldova together with United Hatzalah’s humanitarian aid and medical aid mission. When the call went out on Thursday that we would be sending a mission we had very little time to prepare and arrange all of the logistics. As the Director of the Maintenance Department for United Hatzalah, a lot of those responsibilities fell to me and my team in the Logistics department, which I am a part of. It was a near miracle that we got as much done as we did for the initial flight which took off on Saturday night.

During the first week and a half that I spent in Kishinev, Moldova, we worked around the clock and hardly slept, all to aid the refugees and local community. Some of the things that were necessary to help the refugees were things that I had never done in my life and never thought I would do. I should explain that I am Haredi in my observance of Judaism. That means there is a long list of things that we refrain from doing on Shabbat, things like driving, cooking, using electricity unless we set it up beforehand, and a variety of other things that are considered to be labor.


On the first day when our delegation arrived at the community’s synagogue whose spiritual leader Rabbi Pinchas Saltzman allowed us to turn into our informal headquarters, we saw a kitchen the size of a regular home kitchen being used to cater for hundreds of refugees. They did the best they could and produced a lot of food, but it wasn’t enough to supply the ever-increasing demand of the hordes of refugees coming into the city from Ukraine. Also, the food they were cooking was very basic.

We, the members of United Hatzalah’s logistics department, are used to emergencies and can provide professional responses and solutions in such situations for every aspect in every kind of place. It’s what we are trained for and what we excel at.

Yossi and another UH volunteer buying groceries at a local supermarket in Kishinev (photo not taken on Shabbat) / United Hatzalah

As the only logistics representative of the organization who was a part of the initial delegation, I was sent to coordinate the logistics apparatus of the organization in Moldova. Thank God, after great efforts, and with the cooperation of the local community, I succeeded in establishing a much larger kitchen, big enough to provide between 1,500 – 2,000 meals every day, including on Shabbat. Normally cooking isn’t allowed on Shabbat, however, due to the refugee crisis, the rabbis of both the community and the organization ruled that this was a life-threatening emergency, and thus we were allowed to cook, and when we ran out of food, we were even allowed to go shopping for more food so that new refugees could be fed. Both experiences were completely new to me. But we did what was needed.

When the second flight bringing in volunteers and supplies landed last Thursday, we had an influx of manpower, equipment, and food, which we were told would now be arriving daily from Israel, as United Hatzlah began in earnest its full operation of creating daily airlifts of food and supplies into Moldova, and taking daily airlifts of Ukrainian refugees out of Moldova and bringing them to Israel. Thanks to this, we have upped our production and are now able to provide approximately 2,500 meals each day. If the war continues and the number of refugees rises, we have put together a detailed plan for a kitchen that could produce 10,000 meals a day and more, and on Wednesday a group of chefs arrived to assist in the cooking of our meals.

The food is being sent to refugees in tents on the borders, in hotels rented for them by the local community, in synagogues and community centers where refugees are sleeping, and anywhere else where they are located. Some of the refugees crossing the border have not eaten for days. These refugees include children, infants, pregnant women, and exhausted elderly people. Many of them came by foot and walked dozens if not hundreds of kilometers in rain, mud, and snow. Many carried bags and suitcases. Some carried nothing at all. Some of them have not slept for days, and some are sick. One thing that helps all of them is a healthy, hot meal, cooked with love.

We saw the delight and excitement in their eyes the moment they saw us entering the various dining rooms and presenting them with hot meals. There was a feeling of unity, of a people united. In some places, there was even a sense of family helping one another in times of need.

I returned to Israel on Wednesday and was replaced by Doron Daniel, Director of the Logistics Department with a team of volunteers from the department who bring with them fresh, new strength to continue the work that I had the merit to begin.

My job isn’t flashy. I wasn’t on the border handing out food or providing medical treatment. But it is of vital importance all the same. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to participate in the delegation and contribute from my experience in organizational logistics to help improve the emergency for the refugees. If even one refugee was made more comfortable and their trauma was alleviated a little bit because of the work I did, then for me it was all worth it.

Yossi Kletzki lives in Jerusalem and serves as the Director of Maintenance Department for United Hatzalah. Never before has he gone shopping for food, nor cooked on Shabbat, and he is happy he did it because it saved lives.


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