For over two years the media have been reporting on a bloody war going on between Russia and Ukraine. The scenes are often grisly and violent. But amid the thundering tanks and artillery inflicting death on both sides, a surprising figure emerges: a Jewish man, a Lubavitcher chasid, complete with a long beard and twinkling eyes. He is praying Shacharis, enwrapped in tallis and tefillin, and smiles for the camera.
“I received a Communist education, not a religious one. For many years I didn’t know what Judaism was or how to observe the mitzvot or holidays,” he tells me. Cherkassky, who is tall and sturdy, worked as a laborer doing renovations. In the 1990s he served in the Russian Army. “I was in the army for several years. I learned how to fight and how to operate weapons. That was also the time when the Russian Army was fighting in Chechnya. I learned a lot.” Today, he uses the knowledge he learned from the Russians…against the Russians. Familiar with the Russian Army’s strengths and weaknesses, he takes advantage of that knowledge.
It was during those years that Cherkassky discovered Judaism and belief in God. “My father, with whom I was very close, was seriously ill. He was admitted to the hospital, but the treatments didn’t help him. The disease progressed and the doctors gave up. It was then that I realized that no one could help us except for the One Above; everything depends on Him. I went to the synagogue and learned how to pray. I asked God to heal my father. After discovering the power of prayer I made a commitment to increase my observance and to uphold the Torah and Jewish law. I began studying Judaism in depth and started to keep Shabbos and kosher and accepted all of the mitzvot. Eventually, after being sick for a very long time, my father passed away, and he was given a Jewish burial. He has now gone to the Next World, but in his merit I have continued to grow stronger.”
After living elsewhere for a time Cherkassky returned to Feodosia, got married and had two children. He became a leader of the small local Jewish community. Then, around two years ago, riots broke out in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, and pro-Western rebels took control of the government. Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, who had supported Russian President Vladimir Putin, was removed from power. Yanukovych fled to Donetsk, a pro-Russian stronghold in the far eastern region of Ukraine, and everyone thought the crisis was over; Ukraine would move politically closer to the West. But Putin had other plans. “Now we have to start working on the return of Crimea to Russia,” he declared at the time.
Read the whole story about Asher Yoseph Cherkassy, the Chasidic Freedom Fighter here.here.