For days world leaders have been meeting in order to find a solution to the threat of an invasion of Ukraine, that has been up to now officially denied by Russia and President Vladimir Putin.
According to the Law of the Return, approximately 75.000 Ukrainian Jewish citizens are eligible for Israeli citizenship, and it seems that Israel has already arranged an emergency evacuation. As reported by the Jerusalem Post, Ukrainian Jews have been warned to be ready to be evacuated to Israel, while Russia’s threat scares the country.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog first state visit, on October 5th 2021, was in Kyiv: «Ukraine and Israel have good relations. This year, we mark 30 years of Ukrainian independence and 30 years of relations between Israel and Ukraine» said President Herzog on that occasion. He also thanked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for the recent approval of a tough law against antisemitism and for the adoption of IHRA’s definition of antisemitism.
Rabbi Jonathan Markowitz is Rabbi of Kyiv. He was awarded the Medal and Certificate of honor from the Ukrainian parliament for his 20 years long service and for his contribution to the welfare of Ukrainan people in August 2020. He was interviewed by Shalom.
How has life in Ukraine been for the Jewish community over the last few years?
Kyiv today is a very, very nice place for Jews, non-Jews, Christians, Muslims, for everybody. Everyone who lives here today feels safe. We feel at home. Because of the President, because of Ministers, it’s very safe here. We thank God and we thank the Ukrainian people for being able to live peacefully together.
There has been a rise in antisemitic incidents in Europe. What has the situation been in Ukraine and in which ways, if any, has the state intervened?
I want to say thank you to the state. They are doing everything that they can to help us and to avoid antisemitic provocations in Ukraine. I think that we have less antisemitism than the rest of Europe and America of course. It’s a very safe place today. Jewish people can live and can be part of this country.
In what ways have recent political events impacted the Jewish community and how has the community reacted?
We are Jewish but we are Ukrainian. We live here in Ukraine like Ukrainian people. We are part of this country and we are glad to be part of this country. We feel everything that other Ukrainians think here in Kyiv. We feel it and we live here. Yes, we are fighting for what could happen here in Ukraine, but we have a very strong belief in God. We have a very strong belief in people. We know for sure that everything will be good, but we must be prepared for the worst case scenario. We will stay here and we will help the people of Ukraine and Kyiv. We already have a lot of food that we stored here in our community. It’s not enough food and it’s not enough water, but we are going to look for more and we will purchase more. We are going to have more food. The important thing is that we are together and that we are praying that a war will not start between Ukraine and Russia.
Has there been a rise in alyoth as a consequence of the recent events?
Today I don’t think alyoth will increase significantly, but it depends. If Russia enters Ukraine, there will be a lot more alyoth, of course.
Have you received any kind of support from Jewish communities around the world ?
We are asking for support and we will be very glad if someone will help us. We are praying for this. We are trying to contact other communities. I think this is a good time to ask if somebody can help us.
How has life changed for the Jewish communities since Ukraine was part of the USSR and when it became an independent state?
Today Ukraine is an independent country. Democracy is very strong here. We feel part of this country. Today it is better than other times for the Jewish communities. Thank God today it’s good here, but in those times Ukraine had very big financial problems.
And today? What is the financial situation of the Jewish community today?
We still have problems. As I said, we are part of Ukraine and if Ukraine has financial problems, if Ukraine has problems, the Jewish community has financial problems. In these times, if there is going to be war or not, there is a economic crisis in Ukraine and we feel it in as a community. More people are asking to help them. We would like to help them very much. But even if we want to, we cannot. A lot of Jewish people here are elderly. Most of them need our help, even with food. I am not talking about electricity at home. I am talking about food and medicine. They need the most essential things.
How can the Jewish communities worldwide help the Jewish community of Ukraine?
Any help that Jewish communities around Europe will think of, and will offer will be very helpful. We will say thank you. We need food, water, money, gasoline. We need everything.