In these days, when our eyes and the eyes of the world are upon the Ukraine and the upheaval taking place there, we pray that everyone might have the opportunity to enjoy a life of democracy, freedom, and prosperity. As Israelis and Jews, we are focused mainly on the Jewish community, both in light of anti-Semitism and a declining self-confidence of Jews in the country with regard to their societal status.
Even before the outbreak of the revolution, there were alarming reports of attacks on Jewish institutions. Ukrainian Jews living with a sense of uncertainty and insecurity turned to Jewish organizations for assistance, including the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. The Fellowship operates through the generosity of Christian supporters of Israel who see the task of protecting Jews everywhere as an inseparable part of their love for Israel.
The Fellowship has just approved emergency funds of more than $2 million in order to provide security for educational institutions and other Jewish centers in the country. The Fellowship also helped to fund a security initiative brought about by the Jewish Agency. This is an important undertaking that raises questions about the role of Jewish organizations and the Israeli government in maintaining Jewish populations who need our support and are struggling to cope alone.
Besides security needs, the Jewish community in Ukraine suffers from serious economic difficulties which have worsened following recent events. Since the fall of the communist regime, many Former Soviet Union countries do not possess an adequate social safety net that allows for citizens to live in dignity. Ukraine has one of the largest, as well as one of the poorest, Jewish communities in the world. The average pension for over 80 thousand elderly Ukrainians that receive assistance from the Fellowship, for example, is less than $200 a month. Out of the country’s 300 thousand Jews (estimated by Jewish organizations) tens of thousands are disadvantaged seniors, orphans, or families. Together with the JDC, the Fellowship funds organizations such as Shema Israel and Ohr Avner that offer assistance with basic needs like food, heating in the winter, medical care, and medication year round. These organizations also fund the development of Jewish youth programs and the unfortunately necessary protection of these programs.
The future of Ukraine is shrouded in uncertainty and it shows signs of a worsening economic crisis as well as chaos within state institutions. Within this context, the weakest Jewish communities are at great risk and even the strongest are not immune. The assistance provided to them will become a real life-saver. Indeed, we are seeing an incredible mobilization of our partners in the field, giving whatever help they can to those in the need this past week, even under fire. The solidarity demonstrated by many Jews and Christians around the world is an immutable source of pride and optimism.
But at the same time, the worldwide Jewish community must do more for the Ukraine, as its already difficult situation threatens to worsen in the near future. It would be encouraging to see Jewish communities based in Western countries increase their relief efforts in the FSU. The State of Israel must also see what it can do to increase support for this population using the tools it has at its disposal, primarily in defense of the Jewish community and the strengthening of the Jewish educational system. And it must do so quickly. What we are hearing from the communities in the Ukraine is that despite promises to increase aid, there has been no concrete implementation on the ground.
In the Book of Isaiah (58:7) it is said, “Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” The Jewish people have survived for over 2,000 years through solidarity and mutual assistance. Now we all need to work together with our brothers and our sisters in Ukraine to ensure their continued survival. What we are presently experiencing is most likely just the beginning of a larger crisis for Ukrainian Jews. The best thing we can do is to give immediate assistance and not wait for a greater tragedy to develop.