The Jewish community in Kiev, Ukraine, on Wednesday experienced a unique and unusual visit, hosting Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who had arrived on his first state visit to the country.
During his visit, Herzog met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Meeting Herzog were government officials and public figures, as well as Rabbi Jonathan Benjamin Markowitz, the Chief Rabbi of Kiev and the chief Chabad Lubavitch emissary to the area.
Becoming emotional, Herzog told Rabbi Markowitz of the special connection he had with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and of the unforgettable moment when he and his father, then Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, celebrated the Simchat Torah holiday with the Rebbe.
"I was at the Rebbe for Simchat Torah," Herzog said. "I will never forget that life-changing moment. I remember that he brought me his Torah scroll to hold, and he even blessed me emotionally at that event."
"It was very moving. Until today, that moment accompanies me, especially when I see the amazing activities of Chabad around the world, and especially in Kiev and Ukraine, where we are now."
During an event attended by Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky, Minister Ze'ev Elkin (New Hope), Acting Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency Yaakov Hagoel, Honorary Consul of the State of Israel in Western Ukraine Oleg Vyshniakov, Charman of the Israel-Ukraine Parliamentary Committee Aharon Frankel, and other guests, it was announced that a new branch of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) would be founded in Ukraine.
On Tuesday night, Herzog's entourage and a delegation headed by Hagoel were received by the Jewish community institutions in Kiev, headed by Rabbi Markowitz. There was a special moment when the delegation visited "Child with a Future," a unique institution for children with special needs.
"The institution was founded 11 years ago, and it is the only one of its kind in Ukraine. Each child is accompanied by more than one staff member, with the goal of supporting these special children," Rabbi Markowitz told guests.
Following the visit, Hagoel said, "I was very moved to see the rabbi's life's work. One of the challenges that I set for myself is to help those with disabilities immigrate to Israel and become integrated in the job market and social scene in Israel. I believe that we will join forces on this important challenge."
At the event, the Jewish Agency Chairman presented Rabbi Markowitz with a "unique gift from the Land of israel," Hagoel said.