An Open Letter to the Government of Israel and the Leadership of the American Jewish Community

Dear Fellow Jewish Leaders:

The time for the Jews to leave the Ukraine is now. It is our responsibility to facilitate a mass exodus from this part of the world where antisemitism is once again being used as a political tool. We must bring them to safety in Israel. I am the grandson of four Holocaust survivors. Two of the four were from Russia and Ukraine. My childhood was filled with story-time, sitting on grandparents’ laps, listening to their personal stories of persecution in Eastern Europe and ultimately the Holocaust. Knowing that they were telling me something important, I always sat and listened attentively, trying to absorb the sorrow, lessons, and wisdom of their life experiences. Now, as an adult, whenever I need to make a difficult decision, I often ask myself what these four wisest people that I have ever come across would have advised me to do. Today, their voices are, without hesitation, urging me to write you this letter.

In 1941, notices were posted directing the Jews of Kiev, Ukraine to appear with all of their belongings at a particular location, under threat of death. This location and the rest of the story are now known as the massacre of Jews at Babi Yar, the largest mass shooting of the Holocaust. Last week, a similar leaflet directing Jews to register themselves and their property and to pay a fee under threat of deportation and loss of citizenship was distributed to Ukrainian Jews in Donetsk as they were leaving synagogue to attend their Passover seders. They were on official letterhead with the symbols of Russia and of the Donetsk People’s Republic and signed by the chairman of the government, Denis Pushilin. While news agencies first published the story as authentic, they then embarrassingly retracted and claimed that the entire things was a hoax, that Chairman Pushilin denied any involvement, and that the unknown perpetrators were playing the “anti-Semitsm card” in the battle between Russia and Ukraine.

Like others, I believe the story as it first appeared. I find it very interesting that the correction to the story came after Secretary of State John Kerry publically addressed the issue and called it “grotesque” and “beyond unacceptable.” I believe it was an official letter from the Russian government of Donetsk signed by its official representative. It was only withdrawn when the governments of the United States and Israel and the American Jewish community got involved. I grant you that this is all speculative, but I believe that I am right.

Whether this act of antisemitism was perpetrated by the official government or not, it is a sign of things to come. Let us not forget that some of the greatest slaughters of Jews in history were committed by unofficial groups. Also, whatever deal that may have been struck has only bought us some time. The next step is to get the Jews out of there now; not tomorrow and not the next day. Now! We cannot simply “monitor” the situation as we are currently doing and hope for the best. We cannot wait and see what happens. That is exactly what many Jews in Europe did before the Holocaust. By the time they saw that the situation had deteriorated and were ready to flee for their lives, the borders were closed and it was impossible to get out.

It is more difficult to conduct a mass air lift during all-out war than in a time of relative quiet. Additionally, atrocities are much more likely in war. All-out war between Russia and Ukraine is, without a doubt, a strong possibility. So why are we waiting? What do we have to lose? Whether the situation deteriorates or not, Ukrainian Jews have only to gain from a mass airlift to Israel, as does the State of Israel. What are we waiting for, the first pogrom? Let us not repeat the mistakes of history. Let’s get our people out now, before it is too late.

Wishing us all a Happy Holiday of Freedom,

Rabbi Royi Shaffin

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