Passover Celebrated in Ukraine with Ukrainian-Language Haggadah

Photo: The Central Synagogue of Kyiv on the eve of Passover. Source: Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, FB

The Jewish community in Ukraine now has access to a Ukrainian-language translation of the Haggadah, the text that sets out the order of the Seder at the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover. Additionally, a translation of the Torah into Ukrainian is in preparation. These developments marked the celebration of Passover in Ukraine in 2024 amidst Russian missile attacks and severe fighting in the east of the country.

Why was the Ukrainian translation of the Haggadah published? It was done so that parents could tell their children about the Jewish people’s journey to freedom in their own language. The desire for freedom is arguably one of the greatest values uniting Ukraine with those countries supporting it against Russian aggression.

celebration of passover in ukraine in 2024 amidst russian missile attacks and severe fighting in the east of the country.Photo: Seder in the Simcha Jewish Community (Kyiv) on the Eve of Passover. Source: Simcha

What languages did Jews in Ukraine use previously? In daily life – Yiddish, in prayers – Hebrew, and also Ukrainian, as it was the language of their homeland. Yiddish was almost lost in concentration camps and mass execution sites. Ukrainian also disappeared due to the harsh policy of Russification, which interfered in all areas, even religious rites. During the Soviet era, celebrating Passover openly was banned. Matzah, the wheat flour bread eaten during Passover, was passed from hand to hand as if it were something prohibited.

Now, the situation is completely different: traditional matzah is available on supermarket shelves, a festive menorah is set up in the main square of the capital during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the president attends Jewish holiday events, and religious texts are translated into Ukrainian and published.

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celebration of passover in ukraine in 2024 amidst russian missile attacks and severe fighting in the east of the country.Photo: Meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and representatives of Jewish religious organizations on the occasion of Passover. Source: president.gov.ua

On the eve of Passover, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with representatives of Jewish religious organizations and spoke with students at the specialised school No. 325 “Happiness”. “It is symbolic that we are in a Jewish school and sheltering in a bomb shelter. Such is the eve of Passover. This sends a very important signal to the whole world that every nation and community fights for their freedom and values, which are more important than conditions… The Jewish community supports Ukraine in its fight for freedom for all our children and future,” he noted during the meeting with rabbis.

Rabbi Meir Stambler, head of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine, reminded those present that this is the first time the Torah is being prepared in Ukrainian: “By translating the Torah into Ukrainian, we are confident of achieving a complete victory. One that will change the entire world. Because every action we take changes the world. A world where all forces of evil will be destroyed, as in the war against Israel, so too in the war against Ukraine.”

Additionally, on the eve of Passover, the NGO “All-Ukrainian Jewish Women’s Organization ‘Project Kesher’” completed a two-year effort to translate the Haggadah into Ukrainian – a collection of texts read during the Passover Seder and a description of the Seder itself – a festive meal. In mid-April 2024, the Ukrainian-language Haggadah “For Our Freedom” was published, embodying the desire to support Ukrainian Jews who wish to preserve traditions and speak Ukrainian in critical moments – the language of their native land, the language of the struggle for freedom and independence.

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celebration of passover in ukraine in 2024 amidst russian missile attacks and severe fighting in the east of the country.Photo: Women’s Seder in Kyiv on the eve of Passover. Source: Project Kesher

Vlada Nedak, the Executive Director of Project Kesher, notes, “’For Our Freedom’ resonates with the unique consciousness being shaped among Ukrainian Jewry in response to the full-scale invasion.”

The Haggadah “For Our Freedom” was co-edited by Rabbi Noam Zion and Rabbi Michael Zion, along with Olena Kolpakova and Michal Stamova, who translated the texts from Hebrew into Ukrainian. The illustrations in the Haggadah were created by Zoya Cherkasska-Nnadi, an Israeli artist of Ukrainian descent who knows firsthand what it means to fight for the freedom of her country, her loved ones, and for peace.

The Haggadah “For Our Freedom” was published on the website haggadot.com in 2023 and quickly became a resource for many celebrating Passover. Ahead of the Passover festival in 2024, the Project Kesher team presented the printed version in Kyiv, published by “Dukh i Litera.” Subsequently, copies were distributed free of charge to Jewish communities and organisations within Ukraine and abroad, as well as to those wishing to hold a Passover Seder in Ukrainian.

celebration of passover in ukraine in 2024 amidst russian missile attacks and severe fighting in the east of the country.Photo: Distribution of matzah to Jewish communities in small towns of Ukraine from the Central Synagogue of Kyiv. Source: Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, FB

Two weeks before Passover, Project Kesher held a Women’s Seder in Kyiv. This traditional event for the organisation provided an opportunity to renew knowledge about Passover and highlight the role of women in Jewish history. This year, thanks to the Ukrainian translation of the Haggadah, the atmosphere at the Women’s Seder was particularly special, with familiar texts and songs resonating in Ukrainian.

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