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A Yom Haatzmaut for Ukraine

The festival of Pesach celebrated the collective memory of our people, honoring the precept “you shall narrate to your son on that day … that in every generation we must see ourselves coming out of Egypt.”

It was an intense personal experience to celebrate Passover at the tables of bitterness that were not from bitter herbs, but from the Ukrainian tragedy.

The entire Jewish world expressed its solidarity in a concrete way and through a wide spectrum of organizations that mobilized to bring humanitarian support to refugees.

The World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) also did so, and I took on the challenge and honor of sharing the Pesach nights in our shelter communities created for our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, and visits to social assistance centers.

What struck me most was that for many years we added a fifth glass of wine to ask for the redemption of our brethren who were oppressed under the regime of the then Soviet Union. We called them the Jews of silence, and Natan Sharansky was one of their most comprehensive and powerful symbols.

Once they were liberated from this regime, and after the massive migration of Russian Jews to Israel, a new geography of Russian-speaking Jews and their dialects took shape. This new identity was rooted in diasporas, but also in the new national constellation of countries that generated autonomy from the Soviet regime and declared their national independence. This new conglomerate, for decades, was called FSU (Former Soviet Union).

I appealed on Pesach to the collective memory of our Jewish identity, and to the entire global community, to affirm that although a new Pharaoh was established in this new Egypt for the world order, we must not forget that it is no longer FSU.

A NSU (New Soviet Union) threaten not only the life of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, but also the values of democracies, human rights and the Jewish worldview that left an Ethical Humanism as a legacy to the world.

What will our response of Jewish roots and universal projection be? Nothing can be compared to the Shoah. But we must assume that by honoring six million of our victims and the survivors, all human beings are equally witnesses of the memory of the Shoah as of every genocide — and at the same time of every totalitarian project that enforces its terror and appeals to the destruction of the fellow man by alienating their dignity.

No national claim can justify these massacres and war crimes. We cannot compare victims in both circumstances, but what we can compare is the indifference of a world that is used to the flood of news that numbs sensibility and responsibility, and at the same time the impotence to stop this horror.

More than two months after this war began, I recall that Yom Hashoah ve Hagevurah was adopted into law by the Knesset in 1953. How to set a date to commemorate this horror of the Shoah that cannot be named and its victims never forgotten?

The Israeli parliament decided that one week before Yom Hazikaron, the day on which Israel remembers its fallen in its establishment, its defense, its existence and its security, the victims of the Shoah and the heroes in the ghetto rebellion should also be remembered. One day after Yom Hazikaron, one week and one day after Yom Hashoah ve Hagevurah, Yom Haatzmaut, the independence of the State of Israel, is celebrated.

The heroism of the ghettos and partisan resistance are honored these days as an example for the resilience, struggle, and resistance of the Ukrainian people.

The members of our Jewish communities today who make it across borders are privileged with the solidarity, help and the assistance network that awaits them, and a national home that shelters them so that they can make a future: Medinat Israel.

As it happens on Pesach and in these days of the counting of the Omer, let us tell and remember that there was a Soviet Union. Let us not forget that the monster does not disappear but mutates — Amalek, Haman, Pharaoh, Nazism, antisemitism, anti-Zionism, and other new expressions are at our sight.

Let us open our eyes, our hearts, and our disposition to renewed actions. A New Soviet Union is the Egypt imposed on us by violence and terror …  and a new Yom Haatzmaut is celebrated in the State of Israel these days, and by all the extended family of the Jewish people everywhere.

May the day come soon when peace will allow us to celebrate again a Yom Haatzmaut for Ukraine. Free, democratic, in peace, and as part of a new Europe that shall ensure that its future will be a light for the nations and take us away from this dark night of war.

About the Author
Rabbi Sergio Bergman is President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), and is a politician, activist, and author who began his career at Emanu El, epicenter of Argentina’s Reform Movement. He was ordained at the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary and HUC-JIR. In 2015, President Mauricio Macri of Argentina named him Minister of the Environment. He is married and has four children.
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