I’m at an unusual loss for words this week. Things seem to have spiraled beyond what most imagined since I felt compelled to send this newsletter a day early last week with some thoughts on Ukraine.
Like most people I’ve been in touch with, I feel wildly and frustratingly helpless. Though my actions (and I suspect yours) contradict that sentiment.
Last Thursday, Laurel Kratochvila (owner of Fine Bagels here in Berlin) reached out to me with an idea to fundraise for the Polish Humanitarian Action (an organization actively assisting Ukrainian refugees coming over the border) by selling hamantaschen. For those of you who don’t know, hamantaschen are triangle-shaped cookies with a filling in the center –– traditionally poppyseed –– eaten during Purim. The holiday is one of many in the Jewish catalogue that celebrates our survival from someone who wanted to kill us. In this case, it was Haman in the Book of Esther who sought to kill all of Persia’s Jews.
The shape of the hamantaschen is meant to resemble the hat of Haman. (Fuck with us? We’ll symbolically eat you for centuries!) Laurel saw Putin as something of a modern-day Haman, out to seek the destruction of Ukrainian sovereignty, culture, and language. Not to mention Putin’s invasion seeks to replace Ukraine’s democratically elected Jewish president, has resulted in the closure of various synagogues as people flee, and through bombing, they’ve desecrated the memorial at Babyn Yar where Nazi Germany massacred approximately 34, 000 Jews. There are Holocaust survivors, relatives of those who died at Babyn Yar, who are hiding once again from bombing.
With Purim coming up in a few weeks, using hamantashen to fundraise felt like an obvious way to engage our heritage to do what we can.
We started spreading the word among bakers and bakeries in Europe and the United States. The response has been overwhelming. Laurel shared with me yesterday that she’s still getting messages from people who want to help. If interested, you can find a growing list of participating bakers and bakeries here. I also wrote this piece for The Nosher, highlighting the fundraiser and the motivations behind some of the folks participating. I especially appreciated this quote from Chef Jeremy Umansky at Larder Delicatessen & Bakery in Cleveland.
“My family fled Ukraine to escape Russian persecution and death several generations ago,” he said. “To see the same thing happen again in my lifetime is devastating. Coming together with my Ukrainian sisters and brothers and supporting them against the atrocities that they are currently experiencing is the least that I can do. May the Ukrainian people emerge from this stronger than ever!”
So you see, we are doing something. I suspect you are as well, whether it’s participating in any number of ongoing fundraisers, sending money to help support Ukrainian media, sending supplies to help refugees, buying SIM Cards to help Africans who were studying in Kyiv and now struggling to contact their loved ones back home, or any number of charitable acts of solidarity.
I think the overwhelming sense of helplessness is rooted in our individual inability to fire the silver bullet that would peacefully end this. Unfortunately, nobody knows what the silver bullet is or who has it. I think we all know that intellectually, so it’s a matter of convincing our hearts of our own realistic limitations so we don’t beat ourselves up too much.
That said, I think we can all go beyond what we would’ve previously thought were our limitations to do what’s necessary to stand with Ukraine.
To end, I think we could all use a bit of silliness. So I present to you with very little context, President Volodymyr Zelensky performing “Hava Nagila” with his junk.