Rav Hillel Cohen, who has been assisting Jewish soldiers in Ukraine for months, was officially appointed the Chief Rabbi of the Ukrainian armed forces over the weekend, Ynet reported.
Rav Cohen has been living in Ukraine for 23 years and working in kiruv. He explained how he began aiding Ukrainian soldiers amid his lifesaving work of assisting thousands of Jews to flee the country. “While I was helping rescue Jewish refugees in Ukraine, I began to receive requests from Israelis and Ukrainians regarding military aid. There was an Israeli whose brother was drafted into the army, and I helped him obtain a helmet and a vest from Israel. I also purchased 20 helmets and 20 bulletproof vests from a friend in the country and gave them to a group of Jewish soldiers who were training in Kyiv.”
People began hearing about Rav Cohen’s work and he received requests for assistance from men who wanted to enlist in the Ukrainian army but were rejected. He initiated his first contact with senior Ukrainian military commanders in an effort to assist them.
Rav Cohen acts independently and raises the funds needed for his rescue work himself. Since his wife and nine children left Ukraine two days before the Russian invasion, he divides his time between Israel and Ukraine. It’s quite an unequal division of time as he spends three weeks in Ukraine for every week he spends in Israel.
On his last visit to Israel, Rav Cohen purchased tefillin cases that are specially designed to survive under harsh combat conditions.
Rav Cohen explained his role, saying that “the duty of a military rabbi is to raise morale and to help the troops through the difficult situations. In the Ukrainian army, there are approximately 1,000 Jews, which is actually a significant minority among the 800,000 soldiers in service.”
“I just got back from the front – the conditions are difficult there. It spans hundreds of miles and sometimes soldiers lack basic necessities. As one of the commanders told me, sometimes a shovel can save lives. A party was under Russian artillery attack, and those who had a shovel dug a ditch and were saved, while soldiers who didn’t have shovels were exposed to artillery and died.”
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)