Natalia Verzhbovska is no stranger to Bielefeld’s Jewish community. She has been employed by the liberal community as a rabbi for a month. Next Sunday, she, who was ordained right here in the Beit Tikwa Synagogue in 2015, will be inaugurated as a community rabbi.
Community leader Irith Michelsohn has known Natalia Verzhbovska for many years. And she is grateful, since the rabbi is from Ukraine. The municipality of Bielefeld, together with the city, received 39 families with about 120 people. “There are 66 Jews among them,” says Michelsohn, “a halachic, patrilineal Jew” — a task for the new rabbi. Her administrative experience as managing director of the state association of progressive Jewish communities in North Rhine-Westphalia is also very useful to her.
Religious education Her husband, Rabbi Alexander Lyskovoy, will provide religious instruction in Russian to children and adults to give the refugees a sense of belonging through the language. While Verzhbovska was born in kyiv, her husband is from St. Petersburg. A Russian-Ukrainian family, including a son, is currently caring for Ukrainian refugees.
Natalia Verzhbovska comes from a secular family of engineers. She discovered the synagogue and its spirituality late with a friend. But she also remembers how her grandmother closed her bedroom door on Friday night so the children wouldn’t see that she was lighting the Shabbat candles there, Verzhbovska said.
Among other things, Natalia Verzhbovska took part in the »Paideia« program in Stockholm.
Her husband Alexander had completed his studies at Leo Baeck College in London. After a long period of learning, including participating in the »Paideia« program in Stockholm, Natalia studied at Abraham Geiger College in Potsdam. For her, the decision to become a rabbi was a decision, not a vocation.
And this decision is also almost due to coincidence. Natalia Verzhbovska and Alexander Lyskovy were in Vienna to meet friends at the European Union Conference on Progressive Judaism. They also met with Abraham Geiger College rector Walter Homolka, who reported on the curriculum for training liberal rabbis.
music Natalia Verzhbovska took her first steps in learning with her son at the Sunday school of the liberal Jewish community in kyiv. There they did crafts together, sang and learned their first prayers. She was learning Hebrew. As a trained pianist and musicologist, she helped organize cultural programs and concerts in her community. The love of music played a big role in the family.
“Is this the right thing for me?” Natalia Verzhbovska thought about studying at the Abraham Geiger College. For a long time, she had weighed the pros and cons of pursuing studies. She was very proud to have been invited to the rabbinical studies program at the Hebrew Union College (HUC) in New York. But she had to refuse because HUC was too far from where her family lived and far too expensive.
The program in Berlin and Potsdam seemed attractive and it was only three hours by plane from Moscow.
The program in Berlin and Potsdam seemed very attractive and it was only three hours by plane from Moscow. The college also offered a scholarship to its students, an important factor. However, there remained the question of the German language. “It’s not a problem, it’s a challenge,” Walter Homolka told him then.
Natalia Verzhbovska rose to the challenge, as she does now, by assuming the rabbinical leadership of the Bielefeld community. She holds a full-time position there, says Irith Michelsohn. It is only once a month that Verzhbovska exceptionally takes up her duties in the liberal municipality of Unna, where she did her internships, as well as in Cologne and Oberhausen. In Natalia Verzhbovska, the community of Bielefeld received an experienced rabbi, mother and teacher. What more does she want?