Even in Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe, Jewish families and communities come together each winter to celebrate Chanukah, a holiday that symbolizes the light and joy of family and Jewish traditions. In a Jewish community of about 20,000, the remnant of Bessarabia’s historical Jewish legacy, Chanukah parties and concerts, latkes and sufganiyot, and other holiday festivities are carried out with vibrancy and commitment to the Jewish future. One of the central connectors for these activities is the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which provides holiday celebrations and the basics to needy children and families through a network of Hesed social welfare centers, Jewish Family Service support, youth and volunteer clubs, and JCC activities, making this Chanukah a brighter one.
4-year-old preschooler Karina Bekker, a gentle child who won’t leave school for the day until she has hugged and kissed both her teacher and the classroom aide, helps herself to a snack prior to lighting the Menorah with the rest of her family.
Though 32-year-old Igor and 30-year-old Tatiana Bekker live with their five children in only two small rooms in Bendery, they wish to give them everything they never had – a college education and a more dignified future – as they light the Chanukah candles.
While forced to share a communal kitchen, shower, and bathroom with their neighbors in their small apartment in Bendery, the Bekker family is filled with love as they celebrate Chanukah around the table in their apartment alongside their children including: Yura who always considers his words carefully; Roman who suffers from health issues and has trouble communicating; Karina who is known as the gentle child; Sonia, the family’s hostess and helper; and baby Sasha, who loves to climb into the laps of his loved ones.
A cat lover who dreams of a career in business, 12-year-old Liza Alexeenko, who lives with her retired mother and her father who is employed as a mailman in their damaged home, lights the Chanukah candles in Rybnitsa.
Irina Shlaeva, who runs art classes with a focus on Jewish holidays and culture for vulnerable children in Rybnitsa, explains the origins of Chanukah to a teenage student. Irina lies awake at night thinking about ways to improve her city’s Jewish community.
Irina Shlaeva and her students gathers around the table eagerly awaiting to light the Chanukah candles. This is part of a weekly art class for children at-risk with a special focus on Jewish holidays and culture.
Photos by Alex Weisler