Project Kesher, the venerable institution that has supported grassroots advocacy for Jewish identity and renewal in post-Soviet states since 1989, has launched a first-of-its-kind Ukrainian-language haggadah. Purposely designed to help Ukrainian Jews honor their heritage as they observe the forthcoming Passover holiday, the haggadah includes contemporary commentaries and original sketches inspired by Ukraine’s ongoing fight against the Russian invasion, bringing new meaning and relevance to the Passover story.
The entirety of the haggadah – including its text, illustrations and accompanying music – is currently available digitally at haggadot.com and is set to be released in printed form next year. It has been designed to be customized and/or abbreviated for seders taking place in regions of Ukraine affected by the war, refugee communities, and households throughout the U.S. and globally where individuals have ties to Ukraine and/or support the revolution.
“As the Ukrainian people continue their fight to live in a free, Democratic and safe society, it has become increasingly clear that Ukrainian Jews require access to Jewish liturgy in their own language,” said Karyn Gershon, CEO of Project Kesher. “This haggadah is the embodiment of that cultural imperative, offering a translated and adapted work of significant religious and symbolic importance. What’s more, it places the current war for both Ukrainian land and cultural identity in the context of the Passover theme of moving from slavery to freedom.”
The Haggadah in Depth
Project Kesher designed the Ukrainian-language haggadah to be intellectually compelling and egalitarian, and offer numerous opportunities for highly creative participation. They used the popular haggadah, A Different Night, published in 1997, as a model and brought in the work’s creator, Noam Zion, to contribute readings and serve as an advisor, along with Rabbi Mauricio Balter, Executive Director of Masorti and MERCAZ Olami. They also engaged Rabbi Carole Bailin, Professor of Jewish history at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and Michal Stamova, director of NOAM Ukraine, to provide commentaries that directly reference Ukrainians’ ongoing struggle to preserve their heritage. A special prayer for those who lost their lives fighting for Ukraine’s freedom is prominently featured.
In addition, the haggadah includes five original sketches by renowned Kyiv-born artist Zoya Cherkassky-Nnadi, who immigrated to Israel just weeks before the fall of the Soviet Union. Her works depicting childhood in Soviet-controlled Ukraine have been displayed in museums and galleries throughout the world, and have received increased attention as she adds new pieces reflecting the war’s impact on her native country.
“At its essence, the haggadah tells a story of hope, expressing the idea that people at the lowest position imaginable can find their way to the promised land,” said Ms. Cherkassky-Nnadi. “This sense of hope is what keeps Ukraine as a country and its people together and holding on.”
Support for the Haggadah
As Passover approaches, Jewish leaders throughout the world are lauding Project Kesher's haggadah and acknowledging its significance more than a year into this phase of the Russia-Ukraine war:
Rabbi Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland, which is home to the largest Ukrainian Jewish refugee population, said: “With more than 1,000 Ukrainian Jewish refugees in Poland, we welcome this first-of-its-kind Ukrainian-language haggadah. As the Ukrainian people fight for their freedom, we know that a haggadah in their national language, with readings that reflect their nation’s experience will add meaning to their Passover celebration. It is essential at this time that our Ukrainian brothers and sisters know that we stand with them and will do so until they can live in peace. As we left Egypt, may they also leave oppression and the bitterness of war behind them.”
Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Dean, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said: “Throughout Jewish history, the Passover haggadah has served as a manifesto for freedom and release from slavery. Over time, slavery and oppression took many forms; yet the message of this multi-layered collection of sacred texts from different periods of our history remains constant: Each generation must see itself as coming out of Egypt!
What could be more meaningful and more urgent than a new feminist haggadah in Ukrainian? I hope that this haggadah brings comfort, inspiration, and hope to Ukrainian women and their families that they too will overthrow their Oppressor and live to experience their Spring of freedom and peace within her borders.”
According to Jonathan Ornstein, Executive Director of JCC Krakow: “This beautiful, important Haggadah reminds us that the story of our people leaving Egypt is universal and applies to all those who aspire to live freely, as our ancestors did. And because we ourselves know the pain of slavery, we must do everything in our power to ensure that others stay free. We in Poland who live among the ashes of the Holocaust have a particular responsibility, 80 short years after the Shoah, to care for The Other, in this case Ukrainians, and as our tradition commands us, to care for the stranger. Here we were forsaken and here we must not forsake others. Our community looks forward to using this Haggadah with our new brothers and sisters from Ukraine.”
Rabbi Mauricio Balter, Executive Director of Masorti and MERCAZ Olami, conveyed: “Masorti Olami sees great value and importance in developing and supporting Jewish life in Ukraine, and this Haggadah is just the start of that journey. During these dark days of war and oppression, there is no greater message than the message of hope we learn from the Passover Haggadah. Each Haggadah is a song which provides a person with hope that one day they will be free. During such hard days for the Ukrainian nation, we are honored to have partnered together with Project Kesher to bring them this message of hope in their own language, and to show them that we are praying with them for a better tomorrow.”
In 2024, Project Kesher will release a printed version of the Ukrainian-language haggadah, featuring more original sketches by Ms. Cherkassky-Nnadi, in partnership with the publishing house Duhi Litery.
To learn more about Project Kesher, please visit https://www.projectkesher.org
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