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Rabbi, Wife Sustain Ukrainian Children in War by Building School, Sheltering Orphans

03-16-2023

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ODESA, Ukraine – Within days of the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Chabad Rabbi Avraham Wolff and his wife Chaya acted quickly to help their community escape the country. Part of the plan included sending 300 orphans and others from Odesa to Germany. 

There they rented multiple hotel rooms in Berlin to get the orphans to safety.

“We started a refugee camp in Berlin with all of our orphans. We took a hotel in the part of Berlin that used to be a camp of the Stasi, (Communist secret police), where Putin played billiards. We rented from there 170 rooms in the hotel. We opened a preschool, school, (and) university there,” Rabbi Wolff told CBN News.

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Back in Odesa, the community now had an empty building with a bomb shelter.

“We took out the beds, put in the desks and the chairs. Since the war, everybody came here to study together because we have a bomb shelter that we renovated and heated. Now it’s possible to stay here for many hours,” Chaya told CBN News.

Children from the local Jewish community as well as Jewish families who fled other cities like Mykolaiv, Kherson, and Kharkiv use the building for school, and more.

“We have 112 children who study every day from 8:00 am till 6:00 pm. Whoever wants can leave at 4:00 pm, others can stay until 6:00 pm with group activities and homework and whatever the children need,” Chaya explained.

“The children get four meals a day here, they get free transportation, everything is free. We receive everyone who wants to study at a Jewish school with great joy,” she added.

Nechama Vigler, who runs the school, took CBN News down to the bomb shelter.

There are days when we spend more time in the bomb shelter than in the classrooms upstairs. Unfortunately, during the last year, this is the main 'entertainment' place for our children. Here we study, eat, play and sometimes we stay here until the late hours of the night, unfortunately, until we are able to release the children to go home,” Vigler said.

Vigler explained that even though all the children have homes, many live without electricity or heat.

“So, the school today is more than (a place) to provide knowledge and to study. This is the place for children to live, to meet people, (to have) light. Here, Baruch HaShem (Blessed be the Name), we have a generator, so we have the light (electricity) and heating and food: breakfast, lunch. And here the children get strength because most of them come from dark homes (without electricity) and return to dark homes, which is a shocking and difficult thing,” Vigler shared.

She says despite conditions, young children have a positive attitude.

“I’ll tell you the truth, the children are amazing people. I can come in the morning with heavy and difficult feelings, and I receive energy from the children. They’d always see the good side, always with a smile, especially the younger ones,” Vigler said.

For the older children it’s more complicated.

“Their feelings are difficult. To talk to them and to hear what they have on their hearts: doubts, fear of the future, is really not easy. It’s complicated. It’s hard,” she added.

Vigler says the people of Odesa remain strong even after suffering through a tough winter.

“I feel the drop in energy but the people, all of them, are confident in the victory, not willing to give up. And I feel they’re united. This has united the nation in an amazing way,” Vigler said.

She says no matter where people live, it’s important to care about others.

“I think, that at the end of the day, each person, regardless of where you live, in the USA or Israel, all of us are emissaries. Each one of us can be a light,” she said.

Chaya says it will take a miracle for the war to end soon.

“Other than a miracle it’s impossible to explain it because the way it looks, it’s going to be a long story. But we’re believing people. We renovated the synagogue, renovated the orphanages to receive the children, (and) other buildings. We’re confident that everything will be well. God will protect us, there will be miracles,” Chaya said.

And after a year in Berlin, 120 orphans returned home to Odesa to separate girls and boys homes. And the school is continuing.

Shortly after their return, they celebrated one boy’s 10th birthday together with Purim, marking the Jews’ deliverance from an evil plot to destroy them as told in the book of Esther. And they seem happy to be home.

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About The Author

Julie Stahl
Julie
Stahl

Julie Stahl is a correspondent for CBN News in the Middle East. A Hebrew speaker, she has been covering news in Israel fulltime for more than 20 years. Julie’s life as a journalist has been intertwined with CBN – first as a graduate student in Journalism; then as a journalist with Middle East Television (METV) when it was owned by CBN from 1989-91; and now with the Middle East Bureau of CBN News in Jerusalem since 2009. As a correspondent for CBN News, Julie has covered Israel’s wars with Gaza, rocket attacks on Israeli communities, stories on the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and