Rabbi Yitzchok Meyer Lipszyc and his wife, Leah, run the Chabad center at Simferopol, Crimea. In an email he sent out, he writes, “IT IS FAR FROM GOOD. We are 20 miles from the Russian border and the atmosphere is VERY tense. Families are stocking up on canned food and water. Many in the community are in a state of panic because they KNOW what a war looks like - and I don't! Due to the volatile situation the Ukrainian Jewish population is living in a state of real fear.”
Although we are anxious for the entire population, our hearts go out especially to the Jewish community. Earlier this week, a synagogue in the country's southeast was firebombed. There have been multiple beatings of Jews and acts of vandalism at Kiev synagogues, and the Israeli embassy has advised Jews to stay off the streets.
The revolution has no one face. It is a motley crew of ultra-nationalists, gay-bashers, and neo-Nazis alongside the run-of-the-mill pro-Europe activists. Understandably, is unleashing hell on the usual scapegoats: minorities, immigrants, and Jews.
But by far, the worst of the bunch are the hooligans of the Svoboda party. Svoboda means freedom, though the party stands for anything but. What do they stand for? Here’s a clue: Their original name and logo were derived from Hitler's Nazi Party. They like to march carrying portraits of Stepan Bandera, a nationalist who did some anti-Soviet partisan work for Hitler.
Estimates of how many Jews are in Ukraine vary. One Israeli ministry estimates 250,000 Jews. The European Jewish Congress says 300,000 to 400,000, and the last Ukrainian census, in 2001, estimated 104,000 Jews.
Speaking of the census, here's a funny quirk of demographics, not just in Ukraine, but in Russia and most of the former Soviet states: They classify "Jew" as a nationality, alongside Russian, Ukrainian, Tatar, Pole, et cetera. The implicit message being: There's no way to be Ukrainian and Jewish.
Organizationally, Chabad has the largest Jewish presence in Ukraine; with over 100 Rabbis serving communities in 35 cities. Besides for the Synagogues, Mikvahs and classes, they manage 20 day schools, 7 orphanages and 32 soup kitchens, and continue to provide these vital social and educational services in this difficult situation. In addition to their regular budget, the Jewish communities are in urgent need of independently hired security and humanitarian aid. They need support. Your tax free donation can be made at: http://fjc.ru/ukraine. Every penny goes to Ukraine.