Rarely are crisis situations on the international scene simple to grasp. There are always different versions, different perspectives. Not to mention unsubstantiated rumors and propaganda.
That said, I am finding the crisis situation in Ukraine more difficult to deal with than most others. I take seriously the need to get it right – or as right as is possible. This means doing a good deal of research and a whole lot of thinking. Sometimes it means not sleeping much.
Before I pursue this, I want to share a few contacts for making donations to help the Ukrainian refugees.
United Hatzalah is doing excellent work in Ukraine and at the border of Moldova. Three volunteer teams have gone now. They assist on the ground with medical care and help arrange for Jews to come to Israel. I just heard a story about a nine-year old boy, terrified, who was sent to the border by himself. His mother could not come with him because she had to remain behind with her mother who was too weak to travel. There are a thousand stories like this one, as families are torn apart. United Hatzalah works to help them.
Chabad has also been doing excellent work.
They provide help on both sides of the border; a story about their assistance follows.
Colel Chabad is a separate organization – the oldest social service organization in Israel. It is focusing on providing immediate relief for the families that arrive in Israel.
Here in Israel, we are committed to taking everyone who qualifies for aliyah (Israeli citizenship). This means anyone who has at least one grandparent who is Jewish, as well as that person’s spouse and children. Even sorting this out is a complicated business because many fled without documentation that would attest to their qualifications for Israeli citizenship.
Rabbi David Lau, Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, is planning to establish a special religious court (beit din) in order to determine the religious status of new immigrants to Israel. In the meantime, they are being provided with visitors’ visas.
But determining a person’s qualification for citizenship is not the end of the story. By Jewish law, only those with a Jewish mother or who underwent conversion according to Jewish law are Jewish. Thus, a whole family might qualify for citizenship, and yet not be Jewish according to religious law.
There has been discussion here about changing the Law of Return in order for it to more closely conform to the religious definition for status as a Jew – but this is moot right now in the midst of this crisis.
There has of late, as well, been discussion of simplifying the process for conversion, so that some greater number of those who are citizens would also be counted as Jews according to religious law. There is a considerable amount of debate about this subject. Having mentioned it here (as it has increased relevance right now), I will table further discussion for another day.
Another matter that has been heatedly discussed is the question of how many of the Ukrainians who don’t qualify for citizenship should be taken in by Israel. There are those outside of Israel who maintain we should take everyone who wants to come. In many cases, those seeking entry here do not qualify for citizenship but have relatives who do.
As we might expect in the Jewish State, arguments have run the gamut from those who maintain we have a moral responsibility to take everyone who wants to come, to those who insist we should take only those who qualify for citizenship.
In the end, Minister of the Interior Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) ruled that we would accept 25,000 who don’t qualify on a temporary three-month basis. If the crisis is not over in three months and they cannot return home but have nowhere else to go, they will be provided with interim work permits.
Knowing how these things work, I will say that some good percentage of those permitted in temporarily will end up staying permanently without legal status. There are some 20,000 non-Jewish Ukrainians here now, and, as I understand it, most are without legal status.
Shaked argues, cogently, that Israel is a small country and cannot do it all – that other countries must do their share. Those carrying the heaviest burden are the countries immediately at the border, with reports that Poland is doing an incredible job. But beyond this, Shaked says that, per capita, Israel is taking in more Ukrainian refugees than any other country.
There are about 2 million refugees from Ukraine at this point, and they keep coming. About half of them are children. Pictured, Jewish orphans from Ukraine.
Now, as to the subject that kept me up at night recently:
It is particularly pertinent that I am writing as we approach Shabbat Zahor, during which we are bidden to remember what Amalek did to the Jewish people. This Shabbat comes immediately prior to Purim, which is next week. This is not irrelevant to what is going on now. We Jews are supposed to remember what has been done to us, including in the Shoah (Holocaust).
But does remembering mean we never accept changes that may have taken place over time?
The Ukrainians history during the Shoah was horrendous, with much Ukrainian culpability for Jewish deaths, great willingness to actively assist the Nazis. This cannot and should not be denied.
Yet does this mean that Ukrainians of the current generation are to be held responsible for what happened some 75 plus years ago? More importantly: Are they the same, with regard to anti-Jewish sentiment, as their parents and grandparents were?
I know people who believe they are, who have a “pox on both their houses” attitude and are concerned only about bringing the Jews to safety in Israel. They are likely to be people with a long historical memory, or people who had parents or grandparents who came from Ukraine at that time.
My own take is somewhat different. I took the time, in past weeks, to seek out the opinions of individuals far more knowledgeable than I about Ukraine. What I learned from these individuals is that Ukraine has changed.
This came, for example, from Ilan Berman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council, in the course of a webinar. Berman’s parents are from Russia and he was in Ukraine in recent times.
And it came from others with whom I communicated more directly. It was pointed out to me, for example – and I wrote about this previously – that at one time recently Ukraine was the only country in the world other than Israel that had both a Jewish president – Zelensky, the current president – and a Jewish prime minister. Zelensky’s grandfather was a Holocaust survivor, which is something he speaks about.
Do I think Ukraine is free of anti-Jewish feeling? No way, I’m not that foolish. Sometimes a Ukrainian official makes a remark that is redolent of antisemitism, and my back goes up big time. But on the other hand, there are antisemites in Congress today, and antisemitic acts in NYC have increased by 400% in the last year.
For me, there is a question of proportion and context.
What complicates the situation is that Putin has claimed that that he invaded Ukraine to “eliminate Nazi-ism,” which is pure bunk.
Russia has its own history of anti-Jewish action and pogroms, its own count of Nazis. See:
But Putin floats rumors to reinforce the impression that Ukraine is a Nazi state that commits anti-Jewish acts regularly. Just this week I learned of a report that was put up in various news sites regarding Ukrainians who were attacking Jews trying to get out. Then the report was taken down because it could not be confirmed. The final conclusion was that it was likely a hoax floated by Russians.
My own conclusion, arrived at with some certainty, is that it is Russia that is exhibiting Nazi-like behavior; Nazi-like in that it demonstrates a total disregard for innocent civilian human life. There are multiple instances illustrating this. Several times in the past few days, Ukraine and Russia supposedly negotiated a temporary humanitarian ceasefire, in order to allow Ukrainian civilians passage to leave the country via a corridor. But on more than one occasion, those civilians were attacked by Russians while they were en route.
And then there is the hospital in Mariupol, where the Russians bombed a maternity and children’s hospital.
At first the Russians claimed the accusation was “fake news,” but after videos appeared showing the damage, and the BBC confirmed the location of the videos, the Russians changed their story to say they were investigating how that happened.
See this powerful video:
Mariupol is running out of food and water.
Dmytro Gurin, a Ukrainian MP who grew up in Mariupol and whose parents are trapped there, said, “This is not war any more. This is not army against army. It is carpet bombing. It is Russia against humanity.”
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Cohen, the Chabad emissary to Mariupol, reported:
“They are waging a psychological war in the cruelest manner possible…
“I know from someone who saw it himself that there are dead bodies in the streets.”
There is more, but I will leave off here, for now.
Quite simply, I believe I have a moral obligation as a Jew to support Ukraine.
Apparently arrangements are being made for Zelensky to address the Knesset in the next few days.
When next I write, there is one other issue regarding charges of Ukraine as antisemitic that I hope to visit.
But I also hope there will be opportunity to turn to other news about Israel.