Come home, Ukrainian Jews

None of the possible scenarios awaiting Ukraine’s citizens, particularly those of the Jewish persuasion, arouses much optimism.

Kiev, Ukraine, February 22, 2014 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Kiev, Ukraine, February 22, 2014
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Many unanswered questions remain following the departure of Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovych.
After Yanukovych fled from the pro-European western Ukraine to the eastern, pro-Russian half, and as control of the president’s residential compound was handed over to a small band of anti-government militants, the future of Ukraine is uncertain.
Will an orderly new leadership headed by established opposition parties take over and keep Ukraine united? Will rival power centers in the East and in the West rip apart an already fractured nation, split between the bleak, Soviet-era landscape of the East and a West with its proudly European and elegant cities like Lviv? How will Russian President Vladmir V. Putin respond? Until now, with the Winter Olympic Games in progress, Putin has worked hard to try to present a softer, friendlier image of his country to a suspicious world.
But with the games drawing to an end, Putin is likely to turn all of his attention to the situation in the Ukraine.
On the economic front, who will help fill the depleted coffers of a country on the brink of bankruptcy and crippled by arguably one of the most troubled financial crises in the world? Back in December, Russia offered $15 billion and cheap natural gas on condition Ukraine shun Europe and embrace Russia only. The US, the EU, and the International Monetary Fund, for its part, might be willing to step in, but only on condition that Ukraine wage war on bureaucratic regulations and cut subsidies that keep domestic energy prices low – and cripple the government’s finances.
Of utmost concern from our point of view, however, is the plight of Ukraine’s Jews.
The Ukrainian Jewish community is one of the largest Jewish communities in the Diaspora, with some 200,000 members. These communities are spread across the country from Lviv in the West to Kiev in the center to Dnepropetrovsk in the East. Both young and old Jews run diverse communal institutions that include synagogues, schools, yeshivot, seminaries, community centers, and organizations connected with the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee.
They specialize in extending assistance to the needy – including many Holocaust survivors – and empowering the younger generation.
But the unrest has led to a rise of anti-Semitism. Following several attacks on Jews in Kiev, one of the rabbis of the city, Moshe Reuven Asman, told Ma’ariv that he recommended that the Jews of Kiev leave the city and, if possible, the country. Eduard Dolinsky, executive director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, has asked Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman for help providing security to members of the community in Ukraine.
Rabbi Pinchas Goldshmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, has warned that tolerance of anti-Semitic statements by the Ukrainian government and opposition parties – such as Svoboda – give anti-Semites free reign to attack Jews. Party head Oleg Tyagnibok stated recently that “Ukraine is being controlled by a Russian-Jewish mafia.”
Under the circumstances, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky announced that his organization will extend immediate emergency assistance to the Jewish community of Ukraine and will help secure Jewish institutions.
“We are in constant contact with the leadership of the Ukrainian Jewish community and are following the events closely. The Jewish Agency’s assistance aims to increase security at Jewish communal institutions in Ukraine,” said Sharansky.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, some 330,000 Ukrainian Jews have made aliya, including 2,200 just last year.
Many questions regarding the future of Ukraine remain unanswered. But what seems certain is that none of the possible scenarios awaiting Ukraine’s citizens, particularly those of the Jewish persuasion, arouses much optimism. Under the circumstances, perhaps Ukrainian Jews should take heed of Rabbi Asman’s advice and follow in the footsteps of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian Jews who have already come home to Israel.