News / Europe

Crisis Puts Pressure on Ukraine's Jews

Crisis Puts Pressure on Ukraine's Jewsi
X
Al Pessin
June 06, 2014 8:09 PM
The unrest in Ukraine in recent months has put the country’s Jewish community under new pressures, with a surge of anti-Semitic graffiti and at least one attack on a synagogue. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from Odessa, one of the main centers of Jewish life in the country.
Al Pessin
The unrest in Ukraine in recent months has put the country’s Jewish community under new pressures, with a surge of anti-Semitic graffiti and at least one attack on a synagogue. Odessa is one of the main centers of Jewish life in the country.

On a typical weekday, some of Odessa’s Jews gather for morning prayers as they have for generations.  Ukraine is home to 70,000 practicing Jews, the fourth largest community in Europe. Some 400,000 Ukrainians have Jewish roots.  Normally, the Jews participate in business, politics and other aspects of life without significant notice.

But at times of tension like Ukraine has experienced in recent months, anti-Semitic feelings come out, like this graffiti.  It reads “Death to Jews.”  It’s at the site of the fire on May 2nd in Odessa, in which dozens of pro-Russian demonstrators were killed.  

But Odessa’s Chief Rabbi, Abraham Wolff, says the Jewish community is divided on the Russia-Ukraine issue, just like the broader community.

“I think that the Jewish question has really no role in this war.  Many people think that there is a Jewish question because they are constantly trying to involve Jews on the grounds of our nationhood.  But this is absolutely not true," said Wolff.

Still, Rabbi Wolff was involved in painting over some anti-Semitic graffiti recently, along with the regional leader of the new Right Sector political party, who said his group had nothing to do with it.

And the rabbi admits to having an exit plan for Odessa’s Jews, although he says he doesn’t expect to have to use it.

“There are dangers, but they’re not imminent.  And I don’t think they will become real.  Naturally, we have some problems - anti-Semitism, fascism - like in every country," he said.

Anti-Semitism is deeply rooted in some parts of Ukraine.  There were anti-Jewish pogroms in the early 20th century, and this ravine in Kyiv was the scene of one of the worst Nazi massacres of World War II.  More than 30,000 Jews were lined up, shot and buried at Babi Yar.  Today, it draws few visitors, and children use the ravine as a shortcut on their way home from school.

At the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, Professor Volodymyr Paniotto says 20 years of research indicates anti-Semitism spiked about six years ago.  But he says non-Jewish Ukrainians don’t have significantly different views on Jews than on most other ethnic groups.

“We consider that mainly it’s connected with the worsening of the situation.  The level of poverty was increasing. And when the situation became worse, people tried to find some enemy," said Paniotto.

Paniotto says the current crisis has also made some people look for scapegoats, but he does not think that represents a long term change for the Jews of Ukraine.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid