Israeli president adds final letter to wartime Torah for Ukrainian Jews initiated by Zelensky
Israeli President Isaac Herzog writes the final letter to in a Torah initiated by Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky, April 2024 in Jerusalem. (Photo: Courtesy Israeli president’s office)

By Marcel Gascón Barberá

KYIV, Ukraine (JTA) — More than two years after Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky wrote its first letter, his Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog has inked the final letters of a Torah scroll dedicated to peace in both of their countries.

The Torah was initiated in Ukraine shortly after Russia’s 2022 invasion and completed this week in Israel, now engaged in its own war in Gaza. Along the way, letters were written by Jews serving in the Ukrainian army, members of the Jewish community in Kyiv, families of Israeli fallen soldiers and relatives of Israelis kidnapped in Gaza, among others.

The writing of the Torah, which will be brought back to Ukraine in the coming months and placed in one of the synagogues in the country’s capital, was an initiative of the Kyiv chief rabbi, Yonatan Markowitz.

“Both Jewish presidents wrote a letter in the Sefer Torah, dedicated for the sake of peace and achdut (unity) in Am Yisrael, which will be placed in Kyiv’s Great Synagogue JCC, Beit Menachem,” the Chabad rabbi said in a statement referring to Zelensky and Herzog, who are the world’s only Jewish heads of state.

The first letter of the Sefer Torah was written by Zelensky “in his office in the presidential bunker in Kyiv,” and Herzog wrote the final letter in a ceremony held at his official residence in Jerusalem, according to Markowitz.

“The integration of forces between the Jews of Israel and the Jewish community in Ukraine constitutes a powerful force multiplier for the survival and continuity of the Jewish people,” Herzog said during the event. “There is nothing more moving than being part of writing a Sefer Torah that symbolizes this special unity, especially now.”

The ceremony was attended by relatives of Zina Beylin, a 60-year-old Israeli woman of Ukrainian origin who was murdered on Oct. 7 in Sderot together with a dozen other senior citizens while on a bus trip she had organized to the Dead Sea. Images of their bodies were some of the first to show the carnage from that bloody day.

Also present at the Israeli president’s residence, Markowitz spoke of “the story of Jewish heroism and resilience” shared by “the Jews of Israel and Ukraine” and thanked Jews from Israel and around the world for their assistance to Ukrainian Jews.

“When we began writing the Sefer Torah, we did not think we would reach a situation where our brothers, the people of Israel in the Holy Land, would also be under the threat of a cruel war,” Markowitz said.

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