Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
I am accustomed to meeting tourists at the Kotel (Western Wall) for Kabbalat Shabbat, but the tourists I met at the Kotel in the women's section this past Shabbat were a surprise. Suddenly behind me I heard several women speaking fluent Russian. I turned around and saw more women like them filling the plaza in a large circle. They were holding prayer books and began to sing Kabbalat Shabbat songs slowly together.
And then one of the group's guides explained to me that this was even more amazing than I might think, as she pointed to two parts of the circle. "In this part of the circle, there are around a hundred women who have come from Russia. In that part of the circle over there, there are sixty women from Ukraine. They came to Israel under the auspices of Momentum, an organization that brings Jewish mothers to Israel from around the world. We worked very hard to bring these women straight from war-torn areas. Right here is a woman who arrived from Dnipro, Ukraine," she said while pointing to one of them who stood with eyes closed while locked in an embrace with her companions in the circle.
This special group is handled with much sensitivity. The women from Russia and from Ukraine do not ride in the same bus and flags of the two countries are not displayed. Their guides were women who had made aliyah themselves from Russia and Ukraine, who spoke the languages and understood the mentality of the visitors. During their eight days in Israel they would tour the desert and the Hermon, Tel Aviv and Tzfat, and many other places in between. The highlight of their trip would be Shabbat in Jerusalem. "Before we came down to the Kotel, they became acquainted with the prayer book for the first time," the guide explained, "and it was evident that each one of them had much for which to pray . . ."
I looked at them as they sang "Lecha Dodi" and the words fit the moment perfectly: "Arise, go forth from the ruins, too long have you dwelt in the valley of tears; He will show you abounding mercy. . . Shake the dust off yourself, arise, put on your glorious garments, my people."
I do not know where they will be next Shabbat, in Moscow or in Kiev, but for a few moments they were not women from Russia or from Ukraine, but simply Jewish women who welcomed in Shabbat at the Kotel.