From Israel: “With Heads High, Prayers on Our Lips!!”

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Credit: Philanthropy News Digest

This past week, Natan Sharansky spoke at Sheva Brachot (a celebratory dinner in the week following a wedding).  And this is what he said:

“When I was growing up in Ukraine, in Donetsk, there were many nations and nationalities. There were those with identity papers that read ‘Russian,’ ‘Ukrainian,’ ‘Georgian,’ or ‘Kozak.’ This was not so important since there was not much difference between them.  The single designation that stood out

was ‘Jew.” If that was written as your identity, it was as if you had a disease…

“We knew nothing about Judaism. There was nothing significant about our Jewish identity other than the antisemitism, hatred, and discrimination we experienced because of it…

This week, I was reminded of those days when I saw thousands of people standing at the borders of Ukraine trying to escape.  They are standing there day and night and there is only one word that can help them get out: ‘Jew.’ If you are a Jew, there are Jews outside who care about and are waiting for you. There is someone on the other side of the border who is searching for you. Your chances of leaving are excellent.

“The world has changed.  When I was a child ‘Jew’ was an unfortunate designation. No one envied us. But today on the Ukrainian border, identifying as a Jew is a most fortunate circumstance.  It describes those who have a place to go, where their family, an entire nation, is waiting on the other side.” (Emphasis added)

Translation by Yehoshua Siskin, shared by Sivan Rahav-Meir – “The Ukrainian border: When everything flips”


A quick look, then, at what is happening in Ukraine and at the border with regard to Jewish actions:

The Jewish Agency, with financial support from such organizations as Jewish Federations of North America and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, has set up temporary refugee camps in Poland, Hungary, Romania and Moldova. Journalist Zvika Klein, who spent a week in Poland, says: “If there is one major conclusion I have regarding how official Israeli and Jewish organizations are handling this crisis, it is that they are doing an amazing job, far better than any other country. The people on the ground are tired and working around the clock. Adrenaline and a sense of Jewish peoplehood [are] keeping them focused…” (Emphasis added)

Credit: Hillel Magnus Passport Card


The 120 children from the Odessa orphanage run by Chabad that I had written about in my last posting, have made it out!!  The children were brought from Odessa on five buses, and travelled 1,000 miles through Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic on their way to Germany, where they are now.  Said Rabbi Avraham Wolf, who was with the children in Odessa, many lacked proper documents and even birth certificates; special permission had to be arranged to get them out.

Credit: Jüdisches Bildungszentrum

The Jewish Education Center Chabad Lubawitsch Berlin arranged the rescue. Said Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, “We welcomed the children with open arms…We have done everything in our power to make the hardships of the flight and the long journey more bearable.”


They are settled temporarily in Berlin. I will share further information about them as I secure it.  How exquisitely Rabbi Teichtal’s word exemplify what Natan Sharansky had said just days earlier.


This week, Israel will be setting up a field hospital in Ukraine under the auspices of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  It will be run by Sheba Medical Center, Clalit Health Services and medical staffs of additional hospitals.

The hospital will serve children and adults; it will have an emergency room, a delivery room, and a primary care clinic.

“This is our personal, professional and national duty…” said Sheba Medical Center director Professor Yitzhak Kreiss.


And Sheba Hospital – which is considered the tenth best hospital in the world – is doing even more.

A week ago, the hospital established Sheba Beyond, a virtual hospital that has been set up in Moldova. CTO Sarit Lerner came with a 15-member United Hatzalah team of doctors, EMTs, paramedics and volunteers from its Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit.  They will be utilizing cutting-edge technology to communicate with doctors back in the hospital in Israel; remote specialists will be able to diagnose issues in real time. They will be using the Tytocare remote exam kit, the world’s first all-in-one device that can check patients’ vital signs as well as their lungs, heart, ears, throat, abdomen and skin; the Biobeat-monitors that keep continuous track of 13 different vital signs; and the i-STAT blood analyzer, about the size of a large TV remote, that can check patients’ blood chemistry on the spot.


The 100 tons of humanitarian equipment donated by Israel was unloaded in Poland on Friday; the material was transferred to a facility in neighboring Poland. The material is now being transported by trucks to Lviv where Israel is operating a makeshift embassy after evacuating its mission in Kyiv.

The shipment includes 17 tons of medical equipment and medicine, as well as water purification systems; emergency water supply kits; winter tents; blankets; sleeping bags; and winter coats.

Credit: @GPO/Shlomi Amsalem


Please note that the three operations immediately above serve all Ukrainians in need, not just Jews.  Zvika Klein writes about an Israeli, Maimon Ben Ezra, who runs a kosher restaurant in Warsaw. He is providing free food for Jewish refugees coming into Warsaw, but also feeds non-Jewish refugees.  When asked why, he responded, “Because I’m a Jew. Is there any Jew who would behave otherwise?


Here in Israel, at present, we are accepting a substantial number of Ukranian refugees who do not qualify for citizenship, on what is presumed to be a temporary basis, as a humanitarian gesture. Authorities are struggling with the question of how much our small state can cope with in this regard, in addition to accepting all those Jews who do qualify and whom we have an obligation to accept.  I will certainly have more on this.


With all of this, Israel has been criticized by Ukrainian officials, including President Zelensky, for not doing enough because we are not supplying any military equipment – even defensive equipment. What was said several times was that Jews in particular, because of our own history, should understand and want to help.

This entire scenario generated a painful emotional dissonance in me and many others because, yes, what is going on in Ukraine does evoke images of the Shoah, and I do understand and long to help.  I understand, as well, that Zelensky speaks from a place of desperation when he says these things. (See to the end for more on this.)

But there is a proviso: precisely because of our history, Israel has an obligation to protect her citizens.  It would be a serious matter if Putin, in anger, broke the deconfliction agreement he has with Israel, making it far more difficult for us to run operations that prevent Iran from transferring weaponry, including precision rockets, to Hezbollah via Syria.  What would be at increased risk, then, would be Israeli lives.


With all of this said, it is imminently clear at this point that our government had another reason for attempting to convey a position of neutrality in this conflict – with Prime Minister Bennett never criticizing Russia, but only expressing concern for Ukraine.

As many of you may already know, Prime Minister Bennett flew secretly to meet with Putin in the Kremlin over Shabbat, taking with him Zev Elkin, Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Minister of Housing, to serve as translator.  Elkin, who comes from the Ukraine, had provided Netanyahu with translation assistance for years.  They traveled on a private plane.

Credit: AFP

Both of these men are Shabbat-observant. The fact that they were prepared to take this trip on Shabbat signaled that it was considered a mission that might be life-saving (as life-saving actions take precedence over Shabbat observance).

The chances of anything coming from this meeting were considered slim by most observers (myself very much included).  But I give Bennett an A for effort. As should be the case, nothing of substance has come out about the content of the meeting in the Kremlin, which lasted three hours.  (There were news sources that said they spoke about Iran, but Bennett didn’t fly to Moscow on Shabbat for that.) The fact that Bennett went to Germany from Russia seemed to signal that something was going on. Reports are that Bennett has spoken with Zelensky four times in the last 24 hours.


Following his return, Bennett said:

“Even if the chance is not great — as soon as there is even a small opening, and we have access to all sides and the capability — I see this as our moral obligation to make every effort.. As long as the candle is burning, we must make an effort and perhaps it will yet be possible to act.” (Emphasis added)

And for this attitude, I salute him.  What seemed most likely is not that Bennett would increase chances of bringing the war to a conclusion, but that he might ensure safer conditions for those fleeing the country.


But, sadly, right now it certainly does not seem as if anything remotely positive will come from Bennett’s mediation attempts: the attacks of Russian troops are increasingly ruthless today – with ceasefires set in place for humanitarian purposes broken and civilians attacked.

According to some intelligence reports, Putin – who had expected a speedy victory — is demanding that this operation now be brought to a satisfactory conclusion quickly; this has caused the Russian military to increase the virulence of attacks but without a coordinated plan.  

{JDU. Good video. Can’t embed here.}


The question of what Putin is actually after is key here.  There are, of course, multiple theories advanced by various experts, and in psychological terms Putin’s actions may be over-determined – i.e., there may be multiple reasons for what he does, with secondary factors reinforcing the primary one.

There are those who refer to Ukraine’s attempt to join NATO and Putin’s unease about the threat of a western military force aimed at Russia. And there are others who believe that he wants to re-establish the Soviet Union.


I have become convinced that another key motivation is at play here, one suggested by several analysts, including Ilan Berman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council.

Credit: @ilanberman

Putin, says Berman, is not interested in re-establishing the Soviet Union, with its semi-autonomous republics.  He wants to re-establish the Russian Empire (Greater Russia) pre-USSR, which would offer no autonomy for the nations, all Slavic, that would be enfolded.  This would include Ukraine, Estonia, and a number of other states.  He has no interest in central Asian states such as Chechnya, which are Muslim.

Russia is in a demographic downward spiral with regard to its Slavic population, which makes incorporation of other Slavic states more important for Putin’s conceptualization of Russia.  He is vehemently anti-Western, and seeks to develop Fortress Russia, closed off.  The more Ukraine has tilted west, seeking to establish a western-style democratic state (which is still fragile at present), applying for EU membership, the more this has threatened Putin’s vision.


If this analysis of what Putin is after is accurate, it signals that Russia is aiming for control of the entire country, and that no quick resolution is likely to be possible.  This still leaves open the question of whether Putin will be able to do what he apparently aims to do.


There are many trends developing here that we will need to watch, and examine, over time. Ukraine is establishing a national identity that is profoundly anti-Russian.  What we are seeing is a resurgence of nationalism, and the re-emergence of the Cold War.

Some analysts are now predicting that Russia will ultimately lose this war because of the fierce passion of Ukrainian nationalism. Russian forces are demoralized and funds are running low. Even if the Russians succeed in occupying the Ukraine, predict these analysts, they will not be able to keep it.


Let us close here with a thumbnail view of Ukraine’s complex historical background, which is highly relevant now:

While Putin would have it that there was historically never a separate Ukrainian national identity, in fact, a Ukrainian national movement for self-determination emerged towards the end of WWI.  The internationally recognized Ukrainian People’s Republic, predecessor of modern Ukraine, was declared in June 1917.  But ultimately Ukraine was swallowed up by Soviet power: In 1922, Ukraine became a member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

In 1990, Ukraine issued a Declaration of State Sovereignty, establishing principles of self-determination, democracy, independence, and the priority of Ukrainian law over Soviet law. In 1991, the Ukrainian parliament adopted the Act of Independence. Leaders of Ukraine, along with those of Belarus and Russia, brought about the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the establishment of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

What is significant here is that Ukraine, as part of its establishment as an independent state in 1991, surrendered a huge nuclear arsenal.  At that time, Ukraine was the third largest nuclear power in the world, in possession of 5,000 nuclear arms, including long-range missiles with nuclear warheads, that Moscow had stationed on its soil when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union.

In 1994, under international pressure, the Ukrainian government signed onto the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, formally relinquishing its status as a nuclear state. The text of that agreement stated that in exchange, the “Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.” The weapons were turned over to Russia.

In light of what is going on today, it is hardly necessary to belabour the regret, the sense of betrayal, that Ukrainians must be experiencing. It gives us a stronger understanding of the demands made by President Zelensky, who feels he is standing alone.


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