By Karyn Gershon, Executive Director, October 2014

As Project Kesher groups in Russia, Ukraine and Israel, along with their counterparts in Moldova, Belarus and Georgia celebrate the Jewish New Year, we remain proud of the strength and resiliency of the global Project Kesher network.  We are seeing a strong wave of Jewish programming and social justice initiatives meeting ongoing needs, current political realities and the challenges of the day.  In short, the women of Project Kesher worldwide will likely surpass last year’s total of 144,000 volunteer hours leading Torah study, creating Jewish communal programming, promoting economic empowerment, and advocating for social justice in women’s health, domestic violence, human trafficking, anti-Semitism and other forms of religious and ethnic intolerance.

Here in the United States, we have been repeatedly asked whether there is growing anti-Semitism in Ukraine and whether this is the time to advocate for aliyah.  We are finding this not to be the case. Here are a few bullet points summarizing my current knowledge about the situation and below that, the sources of my information.

  • From the US Ambassador to Ukraine to the Chief Rabbis to Project Kesher-Ukraine leaders there is unanimity that anti-Semitism is NOT a major concern at this time;
  • The biggest issue in the region is instability due to the violence;
  • The new government is very supportive of Jews and the upcoming election is being dominated by democratic parties, not historically anti-Semitic parties;
  • Anti-Semitism reported in the press is, for the most part, the acts of very marginal people in Ukraine hoping to exploit the instability.  The general perception is that it is in Russia’s best interest to highlight these limited acts to perpetuate the sense that Ukraine is out of control; and
  • Approximately 5,000 Jews made aliyah during the conflict primarily from eastern and southern Ukraine.  This was due largely to the violence which served as a catalyst for those at risk economically and those who had been contemplating the move.  Just a few women from the PK network left and they have been welcomed by PK-Israel.

Here are my sources :

From Vlada Bystrova Nedak, Krivoy Rog, Ukraine

I do not see any support showing the growth of anti-Semitism in Ukraine today.  In fact, each political party is vying to prove how it will protect Jews in Ukraine.  We do see some outflow of Jews to Israel, but this is, in my opinion, largely due to the desire to find a better economic situation.  For the most part, all of our attention is on how to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.  To the extent the mass media is covering anti-Semitism, it is in the press that we consider it to be yellow journalism (unsupported and sensationalist).  The Jewish life continues here in the region and I still feel free to represent that I am the director of a Jewish organization and a leader of 16 days to end domestic violence.  I am very visible at the local university and trade union committees of the local factory and have found no discrimination.  I look forward to speaking to you further when I am in the United States at the PK Global Day Trip on November 23rd in NYC.

From Lena Kalnitskaya, Makeevka, Ukraine

In the South-East of Ukraine where hostilities are taking place, I have not encountered anti-Semitism and have not heard any concerns from our Jewish community members. If there have been any instances of anti-Semitism, they were undoubtedly committed by the same marginal people who were anti-Semitic prior to the conflict.   Currently, people who were displaced by the conflict are returning home.  Of course, there are some people made aliyah, but this is not a mass phenomenon. Today people are less focused on ethnicity than ever before.  Divisions in Ukraine tend to be geographic.

From Tanya Voytaluk, Rovno, Ukraine

Everyone in Ukraine is seeing that the new President is actively supporting the Jewish community and other minority groups. You probably saw in the news how Poroshenko (the president) was laying flowers at Babiy Yar (the mass grave where Jews were killed) and on Facebook I saw many, many very positive comments about his actions. Half of the new leadership, including Poroshenko’s inner circle are Jewish. On September 30, 2014, at the Ukrainian-wide Jewish Congress (led by Rabinovich) it became obvious that Jews are having and will have a continuous support from our President.  Some Jews are making aliyah, but it is due to war and the economic crisis (lack of jobs, high prices) rather than anti-Semitism. I have not seen any increase in anti-Semitism or any instances of Jews being oppressed on the grounds of our faith.

From Rabbi Kaminezki, Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine (from the 10/1 NCSEJ phone call)

There hasn’t been a rise in anti-Semitism. Given the very pro-Ukrainian position of the Jewish community, the ultra-nationalists, who are very anti-Russian, are not targeting Jews. More anti-Semitic sentiments are coming from the pro-Russian separatists, who at one point had occupied the Dnipropetrovsk synagogue. The Babi Yar memorial in Kyiv was desecrated recently. Russia is very interested in portraying the new Kyiv government as fascist and anti-Semitic, and they operate very professionally to reach this goal.

From Mark Levin, NCSEJ, Washington, DC (from the 10/1 NCSEJ phone call)

We have raised the issue of the Babi Yar memorial desecration and another incident that took place outside of Podol synagogue in Kyiv with Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. He pledged a quick and thorough investigation. We heard from the Kyiv Jewish community that the security services have opened an investigation into both cases, and that the community is working closely with the Ukrainian authorities.

From the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt (from an NCSEJ phone call)

The ambassador reported that the leading parties in the upcoming election are democratic and not the historically anti-Semitic organizations.  He is not seeing anti-Semitism as a source of significant concern.  He is focused on civil society building to ensure that Ukraine returns to stability.

In sum, Project Kesher-Ukraine needs your investment and support at this time to ensure the strength and continuity of Jewish life and the building of civil society for all.