London Chabad sends mitzvah tank of emergency supplies to Ukraine

West Hampstead community's initiative follows meeting with Ukrainian Chief Rabbi


In partnership with the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, the West Hampstead Chabad congregation has sent a mitzvah tank laden with essential supplies to the war-ravaged country.

The vehicle, which normally services Jewish communities around London, is carrying charging points, batteries, warm clothes and hygiene products. West Hampstead’s initiative followed a visit by Chief Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman in December, after attending a Conservative Friends of Israel event where he met former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

The Chabad’s director, Rabbi Dovid Katz, has been friends with Rabbi Azman for many years. He told the JC that while Rabbi Azman had found the CFI gathering “great for morale, it made no difference on the ground”.

On hearing that one mitzvah tank was already in service in Ukraine providing warm food, electricity and temporary shelter, “I said ‘let’s double the success’ and we began organising a mitzvah tank of our own”.

Community members turned out in force to donate and “within two days we had received enough supplies to fill the vehicle. We even had enough donations to cover the petrol as it drives around Ukraine,” Rabbi Katz reported.

“Rabbi Azman told me that the thing Ukrainians want more than anything is to charge their phones to be able to text their family that they’re alive.

“The mitzvah tank is equipped with charging points so they can do this. It also acts as a sort of postal service, carrying messages between towns and people.”

Before it could depart for Ukraine, Rabbi Katz and Rabbi Yehuda Pink of Solihull Hebrew Congregation — where the tank is normally housed — had to arrange an MOT test and the requisite insurance, the latter requiring great persistence.

“And once we’d told them about the project, a non-Jewish garage said they’d do the MOT for free.”

Rabbi Azman’s son, who lives in London, took the wheel for the journey and Rabbi Azman liaised with the Ukrainian Army to ensure that the necessary documentation was taken care of, including a special permit enabling the vehicle to be driven at night.

“We followed the tank’s journey through satellite tracking as it went through France, Germany and then to the border of Ukraine, where it was escorted by soldiers until it was safe,” Rabbi Katz explained.

“It was our intention to bring kindness and love to the people of Ukraine, both Jews and non-Jews. We have been told that there is a lot of appreciation for it.

“In that country, for people to even have half-an-hour in warmth, to have a hot drink and to charge their phones is making a real difference. There are already plans to look for a third mitzvah tank.”

Since the war began, the 300-family West Hampstead Chabad has dispatched six containers of urgent supplies, with the help of Rabbi Azman, an outspoken critic of the Russian invasion.
In the wake of Russia’s 2014 capture of Crimea, he established the village of Anatevka — named after the fictional town in Fiddler on the Roof — to house Jewish refugees fleeing the Donbas region. Before the war, the village was home to more than 200 Jews.

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