Slovak Jewish community and its Ukrainian Rabbi continue to support refugees

The Jewish community of Bratislava, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Slovakia, and their Ukrainian Rabbi are continuing their support for refugees.

The three border crossings in eastern Slovakia are busy. Thousands of people, mainly women and children, want to leave Ukraine. A billboard reads in Cyrillic letters: “Shalom! The Jewish community is ready to help you.” Below, there is a telephone number.

Anyone who dials it will be connected to Rabbi Mikhailo Kapustin. “I am the first point of contact,” says the 41-year-old. “You can reach me 24/7, even on Shabbat.” Because, he says, it’s about pikuach nefesh, saving lives.

Kapustin has already helped several hundred refugees since the Russian war in Ukraine began. “I ask which border crossing the person is at, whether they need medical assistance or transport.”

Most, Kapustin says, only stay in Slovakia for a few days. They rest from the exhausting flight from the war zone and then travel on, mainly to Austria or Germany. “We give them shelter and food and, if necessary, take care of medical help.”

More than 100 Jewish refugees have now decided to stay in Slovakia. “We support them in finding work and housing, as well as school and kindergarten places,” says Rabbi Kapustin. Integrating them is a big task for the small community.

According to estimates, there are just about 2000 Jews living in Slovakia today, and not all of them are members of congregations. “We help those who are of Jewish origin according to the Israeli right of return and all their family members,” says Kapustin. He adds that they don’t want to tear the families apart. “If they come together, of course we support all of them.”

Kapustin is not the only one in the community helping the refugees. Immediately after the war began, the Federation of Jewish Communities in Skovakia immediately formed a crisis team. The rabbi is the most exposed part of it, the first point of contact.

Before coming to Bratislava, Kapustin was a liberal rabbi in Crimea for seven years. In spring 2014, when Russian troops occupied the peninsula, he wrote an open letter condemning the invasion. In response, he was insulted and threatened, and fled the peninsula, first to Kyiv and then to Slovakia, where he found his new home.

Kapustin’s Orthodox colleague, the Orthodox rabbi of Crimea, also left the peninsula at that time. For Kapustin, this was already the second flight: The first time, he was still a child, eleven years old; at that time, in the early 1990s, his parents fled the war in Georgia – and chose Crimea, of all places, as their new centre of life.

Mikhail Kapustin is still a Ukrainian citizen today. He has many friends in Ukraine and is very attached to the country and its development. The fact that he hasn’t had a day off in a month hardly bothers him. “I am full of energy,” he says, “we have to keep helping.”


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