During my high school and college years, the cause of liberating Soviet Jewry rose as a major goal of the Israeli and Diaspora Jewish communities. And the button and bumper sticker of choice was one that read, “Russia isn’t healthy for Jews and other living things.” Given the current events in Ukraine, things have not changed.
As you may know, last week following evening services one day in the Ukrainian town of Donetsk, masked men approached Jewish worshipers with leaflets, informing them that ‘Jews’ had to register their names, possessions, and the fact that they were loyal to the Russian separatists, and pay the equivalent of $50 to do so. They were informed further that non-compliance would be met with ouster from the country.
The fact that this act was not sanctioned by the government in Russia – that this was later revealed to be an elaborate hoax perpetrated against the Jews (and perhaps the Ukrainian government) – meant nothing to the Jewish worshipers. They felt intimidated, shamed, frightened, and disgusted. This was an act reminiscent of the Holocaust, when identifying one’s lineage became the difference between life and death.
Jews becoming the political pawns of hostile governments has happened for hundreds of years. I guess it never stops getting old.
But this occurrence in Donetsk, taken in concert with the haunting events of Overland Park, Kansas, where a known white supremacist attacked two very visible Jewish institutions, make it abundantly clear that anti-Semitism still exists as a force to be reckoned with. It is something that we must recognize and label it for what it is: ethnic hatred and intolerance.
At this time of the year, when Passover coincides with Easter, and the passions of people become inflamed, it is vital to protect our communal institutions and our way of life as a free American people. And when we see overt acts of anti-Semitism, to call them out and identify them! Only then will we begin to win the struggle against them.