From Battle Explosions to Hanukkah Lights
Arutz 14 | December 19, 2022
For months, the entire world was riveted to the battles waged between Russia and Ukraine, but gradually the drawn-out fighting and a busy global agenda has pushed the war out of the headlines. Yet for the Ukrainian nation and the refugees who have fled for their lives, this is a bloody, ongoing reality they live with every day.
One of the Ukrainian refugees forced to leave her homeland is twenty-two year old Risha Luzetzky. Risha was born into a poor family in the city of Dnipro in Ukraine. She was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and physical and developmental issues, and she lost her mother at a young age when she died of complications giving birth to Risha’s younger brother. When war broke out last February, Risha was living in the city’s Chabad orphanage, where she had been placed due to her father’s severe alcoholism and his inability to care for the children alone.
Risha lived in the orphanage because there were no relatives to take her and her brother. Despite the love and care she received from the staff, who had raised her since she was seven, she suffered from deep loneliness that intensified when the fighting broke out.
Yet seven months ago it was that same war that brought about a turning point in Risha’s harsh life. As the situation escalated, the orphanage decided to evacuate the children to safety. A special operation was carried out, accompanied by Sara Duba, the Chabad emissary who runs the orphanage, to place Risha and three other girls from the orphanage on a flight to Israel and out of war-torn Ukraine.
After landing in Israel, Risha was taken in by the Elaine and Norm Brodsky Darkaynu Program. The goal of the program, established by the Ohr Torah Stone educational network, is to make the Israel experience accessible to young adults with special needs from abroad, based on the belief that Judaism and a connection to Israel are the right of every Jew. The program, intended for young adults with a wide range of special needs such as Down syndrome, Asperger’s, autism, and developmental delays, and enables participants learn about Judaism, receive practical life skills training, go on hikes and heritage tours, volunteer in the community and in the IDF, and also receive support with personal development and gaining self-confidence. When the Darkaynu team heard Risha’s story, they came together to help her experience a new and safe start in Israel by integrating her into the program.
“I am happy to be with the other girls and far from the war zone,” Risha said today while lighting Hanukkah candles in a room glowing with the light of hundreds of menorahs lit by the students of Ohr Torah Stone’s Midreshet Lindenbaum, where students in the women’s Darkaynu program live and learn. “I like the moments of happiness, the prayers, and the special dances,” she related enthusiastically.
“It is specifically at this time that we celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah and the victory against all odds. One can’t help but be inspired by Risha’s story,” says Elana Goldscheider, founder and director of the Darkaynu program. “A victory that takes on special meaning when we see Risha enveloped in love and caring, fitting in and blossoming more and more each day.”