In several Jewish communities in Ukraine, where the war has been going on for more than 500 days, the "Breathe Easy" project is being successfully concluded. As part of the project, thousands of Jewish men and women - with an emphasis on children and teenagers, the youngest of whom was two weeks old - were evacuated to the Chabad Balaton 'refugee camp' located On the shore of Lake Balaton in Hungary.
The camp belongs to the Hungarian government and was allocated for the benefit of the Jews of Ukraine about a month after the outbreak of the war, in cooperation between the Association of United Hungarian Jewish Congregations (EMIH) led by Rabbi Slomó Köves and the 'Federation of Jewish Communities in Ukraine' (FJCU) led by Rabbi Meir Stambler.
In the past, the high-ranking officials of the Hungarian government, including the Prime Minister and President, ministers, and members of parliament, were hosted in the prestigious government complex. On 3000 square meters of lawns and trees, in front of the lake, there are playgrounds and pools, sports fields, and large and small residential buildings. Next to them were placed 3 rows of mobile homes, to allow maximum occupancy.
During the summer, 11 different groups were hosted there, most of them children, who formed different specially adapted camps: starting with a group of 43 children with special needs who were brought in a complex logistical operation from 14 cities and towns in Ukraine, the large congregation of Rabbi Bleich from Kyiv, a group of Chabad emissaries and their families, adults and more. In total, more than 3,000 people came to the site for a free vacation, most of them children. Some of them came from cities throughout Europe, to which they were displaced when the war broke out. Most of them left Ukraine, where they live, for one reason or another, and returned to it later. In addition to the groups that were accommodated, dozens of families whose homes in Ukraine were destroyed or whose towns were occupied by Russian forces, from whom they narrowly escaped, are living in the camp on an ongoing basis.
"The war in Ukraine, which is almost of no interest to the world anymore, takes a heavy toll in human life every day. Millions rush to basements and stairwells every week because of alarms and the firing of rockets and long-range missiles that hit population concentrations all over the country, and the end is not in sight. On the one hand, like in the Gaza Strip, people prefer to stay because after all this is their home; on the other hand, they need some freedom and calm. Our refugee complex helps them relax from the incessant bombings and alarms," says Ksenia Onoprichuk, who was in charge of the Breathe Easy operation for the FJCU.
According to her, "There is a big problem because people from the age of 18 to 60 are required to be drafted, so their wives and children cannot leave Ukraine without them, but at the same time, they must relax. That is why this year we saw a very large number of families arriving here without the husband, who remained at the front. We tried to give the women and the children as much strength as we could. This is reflected in psychological assistance, enrichment, and cultural programs and, of course, 3 hot and nutritious meals every day and spacious and clean rooms, and all this at no cost."
Those staying in the refugee village also enjoyed enrichment classes in Judaism, learned Hebrew, and enjoyed sports games and sailing in the camp. Some of the summer programs were supported by Mosiac United and the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs in Israel.
A dramatic moment took place in the refugee camp when 80-year-old Zeev Taush, who was rescued by the FJCU from Kyiv a few days after the outbreak of the war and has since been in a compound in Hungary, suffered a heart attack and was in mortal danger. Rabbis Stambler and Köves managed to get him a specialist Jewish doctor from Budapest, named Pap Elod, who performed an emergency operation on him. "Now I feel great, can walk and even run, the Rabbis' help brought me back to life," says Zeev.
Rabbi Levy Engelsman, who managed the programs as part of the Breathe Easy operation, commented: "The oldest vacationer in the camp was a 92-year-old Jew, and now we are preparing to receive crowds of Jews who will come here to refresh themselves during the Tishrei holidays, at the same time as prayers and activities in Ukraine that will be held in an increased capacity this year by FJCU and with the assistance of Chabad. We are sure and believe that soon we will all ascend to Jerusalem, the holy city, at the coming of the Messiah."