On Wednesday, July 11th, 45 people representing five countries including the France, Germany, Israel, the U.K. and the U.S. landed in Ukraine to begin a seven day mission to Odessa and Kiev to learn about Jewish history and the current reality of Jewish life in Ukraine today.
The highlight was the installation ceremony of Rabbi Reuven Stamov as the first Masorti/Conservative rabbi in Ukraine on Sunday.
Rabbi Stamov was born in Simferopol in Ukraine to a secular family. At 18, Reuven developed a passion for Masorti Judaism through his involvement in Midreshet Yerushalayim, a division of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. His path eventually led him to Israel in 2003, where he decided he wanted to become a Masorti Rabbi. Each summer during his studies, Reuven would return to his native country to work at Camp Ramah Ukraine. It was during these summer trips that he began to lay the foundations for creating a vibrant Masorti Jewish life in Ukraine. During one special summer, he met Lena who eventually became his wife and together they are the parents of 2 young girls. In March of this year, following Rabbi Stamov’s ordination at the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, Reuven and his family returned to Ukraine to continue his mission of bringing Masorti Judaism to the estimated 100,000 Jews who live in Ukraine.
Attending the ceremony along with the members of the mission and the local Kiev community, were representatives of Masorti communities from Berdichev, Chernovitz, Donetsk, Kharkov, Kirovograd, Nikolayiv and Simferopol.
In his installation dvar torah Rabbi Stamov spoke of transitions. “This coming Shabbat’s Torah portion will teach us about the transition between Am Yisrael’s journey in the desert, as we finish reading the book of Numbers, and the final stages of that journey, as we begin the book of Deuteronomy. ”
Rabbi Stamov also shared his own personal transitions “from secular to religious, from Ukraine to Israel and back again to Ukraine and most importantly from one chapter of history of Masorti programming and community to the next transition which is renewal of a traditional and modern Jewish life – Masorti Judaism in Ukraine.”
The installation program included contemporary dance performances by Kesem, the youth dance group of Masoret Kehillah in Kiev, as well as the Yachad foldk dance troupe from Kirovograd.
In speaking of the historic nature of the event, Rabbi Tzvi Graetz, Executive Director of Masorti Olami, commented, “it was a real joy to witness the installation of Rabbi Stamov, a young man with such great enthusiasm and commitment to the rejuvenation of traditional and modern Jewish life in Ukraine.” Rabbi Professor David Golinkin, President of the Schechter Institutes added “after 20 years of working with the community in Ukraine via summer camps, day schools and Sunday schools, it’s amazing to now be reaping the benefit and the fruits of our labor.”
Rabbi Stamov joins a growing list of almost 100 Masorti rabbis serving over 130 Masorti kehillot in Europe, Latin America, Israel and around the world.