An East-West confrontation not seen since the Cold War is transfixing the world, with the stakes high on a number of fronts. Understanding the complexities of the situation stemming from the ouster of the Ukrainian government and the Russian annexation of Crimea requires some serious study. But with all the murkiness, one point should be quite clear: The Jews caught in this conflict must not become political pawns. Nor can they be forgotten.
The Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union — many of them larger (and no more monolithic) than most American Jewish communities — are no longer the poor stepchild solely dependent on assistance from world Jewry. With the rise of independence and wealth in the region came many Jewish titans, some of whom give generously to Jewish causes.
One such oligarch in Ukraine, Vadim Rabinovich, even announced this week that he is running to become president of his country in elections slated for May. Rabinovich is among the Jewish leaders in both Russia and Ukraine who are dismissing the notion that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Ukraine, despite some recent disturbing incidents. They blame Russian President Vladimir Putin for playing the anti-Semitism card to discredit the interim Ukrainian government.
World Jewry needs to stay informed on these issues because an escalating crisis between Russia and Ukraine and its Western allies cannot be good for the Jews in either nation.
And despite some internal support, we still have a role to play in financially assisting the Ukrainian Jewish population, many of them old and fragile. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, an overseas partner of the Federation system, employs an extensive network of Hesed social welfare centers to serve meals and provide medical supplies to thousand of vulnerable elderly and at-risk children in Ukraine and Crimea.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, in partnership with the Jewish Federations of North America, is raising funds (jewishphilly.org/donate-to-the-ukraine-assistance-fund ) to enable the JDC and Jewish Agency for Israel, which is helping with security at Jewish institutions, to step up their efforts during the current crisis.
A Jewish Agency employee wrote on the organization’s website that she had received dozens of messages from around the world offering help. Most touching, she wrote, is “to know that Jewish people in Israel, the U.S. and other countries worry about Jews in Ukraine without even knowing us.”
That is what Jewish peoplehood is about. Let us keep that in mind as we watch political leaders hammer out the next steps for addressing the latest crisis on the world stage.