Ashdod Chief Rabbi Yosef Sheinin addresses the audience
The Russian-language newspaper Sputnik gave the Yad L'Achim extensive coverage
Some 400 Holocaust survivors in Ashdod attended an inspirational gathering a few days before Pesach, organized by Yad L'Achim in conjunction with a non-profit organization that helps survivors.
The gathering was the result of intensive work on Yad L'Achim's part to convince the nonprofit to sever its ties with missionaries, who had been providing financial assistance – with strings attached. Once the group understand the true motives of the missionaries and ended the relationship with them, it turned to Yad L'Achim to provide much-needed spiritual content to its material assistance.
The highlight of the gathering, held in a local community center, was a heart-rending performance by the Chassidic violinist Reb Mordechai Brodsky, who played Pesach songs from his father's home that awakened dormant memories among members of the audience. His soulful tunes were interspersed with the story of his personal experiences in drawing closer to Torah.
The audience was addressed by Yad L'Achim chairman Harav Yisrael Lifschitz, who urged the survivors to strengthen themselves in the heritage of their fathers – the ultimate act of revenge against the Nazis, who sought to wipe their ancestors, and their heritage, off the face of the earth. However, as stated in the stirring words of "V'hi she'amda" in the Haggadah, Hakadosh Baruch Hu saves us from the hands of enemies who rise up against us generation after generation.
Vladimir Listengarten, chairman of the nonprofit that assists survivors, had warm words of praise for Yad L'Achim. He was followed by the deputy mayor of Ashdod, Boris Gitterman, who hailed the initiative behind the gathering and thanked Yad L'Achim for rekindling the flame of Judaism in the hearts of Holocaust survivors.
The Chief Rabbi of Ashdod, Harav Yosef Sheinin, electrified the audience with the tale of how his family had immigrated from Belarus decades ago. He described with great emotion the nefarious intentions of the missionaries and emphasized that our strength as a people has always derived from our allegiance to Torah and mitzvos and the fact that we never assimilated among the nations. His heart-felt words brought tears to the eyes of many in the auditorium.
The survivors were profoundly moved by the event. "This is the first time they relate to us as Jews - from a spiritual and moral point of view – and don't just hand us food baskets and other financial assistance," said one man, clearly expressing the feelings of many.
The event didn't go unnoticed by the Russian-language media, which gave it very favorable coverage. The newspaper Sputnik, which is widely read among immigrants from the FSU, carried a report by Moshe Garelik, who was in the audience and shared with readers his impressions.
"Disregarding our Jewish tradition amounts to giving up what characterizes us and constitutes a gift to anti-Semitism," he wrote. "We must therefore be on our guard as relates to the activities of the missionaries who advance their evil designs in the guise of innocent [humanitarian] assistance."