Jews in Russia and Ukraine Conflicted over Response to Putin's Invasion

Jews in Russia and Ukraine Conflicted over Response to Putin's Invasion

There is a conflict between Russian Jews living under Vladimir Putin and their co-religionists in the Crimean peninsula over how to respond to Putin’s military takeover of Crimea last week. 

Chief Rabbi and President of the Jewish Federation of Ukraine Jacob Dov Bleich was joined by other Crimean Jewish leaders in releasing a statement calling for Russia to “stop its aggression against Ukraine” and to withdraw its troops from the Crimean peninsula. The statement also asked the international community to “stop [the] foreign invasion into Ukraine and brutal interference into our internal affairs.”

A representative of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee told the Jerusalem Post that, while “there is no specific Jewish reaction,” the Jewish community “as citizens of Ukraine are united in condemning the Russia intervention. We, of course, support Rabbi Bleich and other religious leaders.”

The Ukrainian Jewish Committee’s founder, Oleksandr Feldman, said a united Ukrainian civil society “condemns Russian Federation military intervention and calls upon President Putin to immediately withdraw the troops.”

Feldman continued:

We call upon all our fellow citizens not to allow any expressions, actions or inactions, which can be used by extremists in their goals. Today’s Ukraine is a native home for tens of millions of people of 130 ethnic groups and national backgrounds. We believe it is inappropriate and strongly condemn any ideological and violent attempts and calls to destroy Ukraine’s integrity.

However, Alexander Boroda, the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, told the Jerusalem Post that the Crimean Jews should be silent, alleging that Putin’s actions are “not connected to the Jews” and that “Jews and rabbis should stay away from politics.” He worried that there is not widespread anti-Semitism now, but “we don’t know what will be tomorrow… We feel like one family, the Jews in Ukraine and Russia, like one community, and we worry for the Ukrainian Jews.”

Boroda ignored that graffiti calling for “Death to the Jews” defaced the Ner Tamid Reform synagogue in the Crimea last week. Anatoly Gendin, head of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Crimea, said that “Jews are [being] held responsible” and are being “blamed” for the “disasters” that Crimean citizens face. Last year, a new Chabad synagogue being built in Sevastopol had a pig’s head hurled at it; in 2007, Chabad Chief Rabbi of Sevastopol Benjamin Wolf was beaten up on his way home from the synagogue. Wolf, who now lives in Israel, said that the Crimean Jewish community is preparing “assistance of medical supplies, food, fuel, technical measures and financial support to Jews and local residents.”

Rabbi Michael Kapustin of the Ner Tamid Reform synagogue in Simferopol in the Crimea was planning to attend his synagogue to light candles though services were canceled. He said, “The city is occupied by Russians. Apparently Russians intend to take over the Crimea and make it a part of Russia. If this were the case, I would leave the country. In this case, I will leave this country since I want to live in [a] democratic Ukraine.”

Alex Selsky, CEO of the World Forum of Russian Speaking Jews told the Post said the Jews in Crimea should emigrate to Israel, “which was created for Jews who are in danger in the Diaspora. If the Jews feel insecure they definitely can make aliya to Israel.” He continued “If they decide to stay in the Diaspora, we will help them to secure their communities; but this conflict is not Jewish and we don’t have a political statement on it.” He added that a team of Israelis will arrive in Kiev next week to teach the Jews self-defense.