The Ukraine’s Jewish population has been a target amid the political upheaval in the nation. A synagogue was hit with firebombs over the weekend, and there have been reports of anti-Semitic acts and threats from both sides of the political spectrum. The conditions have deteriorated to the point that a prominent Rabbi has recommended Kiev Jews leave the city and even the country if possible.
The Ukraine as a whole is in turmoil. An arrest warrant has been issued for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Massive changes have taken place in the nation as Parliament voted Yanukovych out after “protesters” took control of the capital in a move the former president called a coup. It certainly goes beyond a “protest,” though that is the word the mainstream media continues to use.
Now Yanukovych has apparently gone into hiding, and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has been released from the hospital where she was imprisoned. The parliament has now given presidential powers to its new speaker, Oleksandr Turchinov, who is an ally of Tymoshenko and who has made his position clear that his goal is to fix the economy and return “to the path of European integration,” as the Associated Press reported. New elections are set for May 25.
It is a tumultuous situation to say the least. Arutz Sheva correspondent Ludmila Yuga, reporting from ground zero in the Ukraine, declared, “this is not a revolution- this is war.” So much for the “peaceful protest” as the Western media and government officials begged us to believe. Almost all the weapons in Ukraine’s arsenal are in the hands of extremists, who confiscated weapons from the civilian population. Police warehouses were looted, according to Yuga.
There are reports that extremists have been targeting the Jewish community, which should not be surprising as there are neo-Nazi groups among the “peaceful protesting” opposition. Jews are not able to wear a kippah in public, and extra security has been put in place at Jewish institutions in Kiev.
In January, a hareidi man was stabbed walking home from synagogue on a Friday night, and anti-Semitic graffiti was sprayed on a Holocaust memorial in Alexandria last week. Even last year, the president of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress “narrowly escaped with his life after a bomb was hurled at his car as it pulled out from an office,” Arutz Sheva reported.
More reports indicate that not only are the neo-Nazis to blame but also Ukrainian police forces loyal to Yanukovych, who are making threats against Jews, despite the overall Jewish neutrality over the current political unrest. Additionally, “protesters” have vandalized Jewish shops, and local extremists have threatened to harm Jews.
Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman is Chabad Chief Rabbi of Ukraine and the Rabbi of the Brodski Synagogue in Kiev. Over the weekend, he asked Jews to leave, fearing for their safety. “I told my congregation to leave the city center or the city all together and if possible the country too…I don’t want to tempt fate…but there are constant warnings concerning intentions to attack Jewish institutions,” Rabbi Azman told Maariv.
Though over 330,000 Ukrainian Jews have made Aliyah (to Israel) since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian Jewish community is still one of the largest Jewish communities in the world with around 200,000 Jews, most living in Kiev where the majority of the violence has occurred.
The Ukraine is important to Hasidism, which began in Eastern Europe. The Breslov movement was founded by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the greatgrandson of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism. Breslover Hasidim usually refer to him as “Rebbe Nachman” or simply “the Rebbe” (different from the Lubavitcher Rebbe). Rebbe Nachman is buried in Uman in the Ukraine. Each year, Breslover Hasidim travel to Uman to celebrate Rosh Hashanah near the gravesite.
The history of Jews in the Ukraine is a complicated one, but various pogroms occurred in the city of Kiev, in 1881, 1905 and 1919. What is considered the first pogrom took place in 1821 in Odessa, which is now a part of the Ukraine, and this kick started years of violent pogroms against Jews across the Ukraine and all over the Russian Empire. Tens of thousands of Jews were killed as a result. World War II was even more devastating, with over 1 million Jews murdered in the Ukraine alone.
Let’s hope the current threat dies down after the violence subsides, and order is restored, though when that will be is still in question. There is some talk of the Ukraine breaking in two, with the West aligning itself with the EU and the East with Russia. Only time will tell the fate of the Ukraine and the fate of its longstanding Jewish community.
By: Rachel Molschky
Official Facebook Page for the Writing Team of Y.K. Cherson and Rachel Molschky: here