Jews on Ukraine: Curb Your Enthusiasm

It’s hard to avoid getting emotionally drawn into the war in Ukraine. It’s a contemporary David and Goliath tale, a  brave little country overrun by its big bear of neighbor. President Volodymyr Zelensky, a retired comic who ascended to the role as a joke candidate has displayed leadership skills rarely seen in our times.

And yet as Jews, we can’t allow ourselves this luxury. The Ukrainians aren’t our friends. nor are the Russians. Nascent Ukrainian nationalism is laced with antisemitism.

As Vladimir Putin correctly pointed out the Ukrainians have a nazi past. This isn’t meant as a defense of his invasion which is of course deplorable but it’s a reminder. We must never allow ourselves to forget what the ancestors of today’s heroes did to our nation.

When we think of the holocaust we usually think of cattle cars, gas chambers, and concentration camps but before the death factories were invented Ukraine was the site of the “Holocaust of Bullets,” the lo-tech but still massive slaughter of over four million of our people, most of their names lost to history.

Today’s  Ukrainians are brave people. The images on social media of farmers plowing down Russian tanks and grandmothers throwing Molotov cocktails bring that home but in 1941 that bravery was nowhere to be found.

Instead of resisting the nazis the Ukrainians, in many cases the parents and grandparents of today’s heroes became their partners. In Ukraine of 1941, there were no righteous gentiles. No one opened their homes to shelter Jews. Instead, the Ukrainians did Hitler’s dirty work gunning down the Jews themselves and then gleefully plundering their property.

If you want to know more read Wendy Lower’s book “the Ravine.”

Nazism wasn’t the beginning either.  Just a few decades before Hitler, Ukraine was the site of some of the  20th century’s bloodiest pogroms. And going back in time, Ukraine was the site of the Chmelniki massacres where thousands of Jews lost their lives.

Ukrainian nationalism is a modern phenomenon. Historically Ukraine was a region of Russia. I am not suggesting that today’s Ukraine is an illegitimate state–far from it and I do wish them well in their struggle we dont need to take the front row of the cheering sections. Nor do we need to send them arms. Even today we Jews are tiny and despised people. We need to look out for ourselves and stay out of this conflict. It doesn’t belong to us.

The Torah tasks us with being a light onto the nations but in order to beam outwards, we must first illuminate our own lives and our own society. We need to focus on ourselves,  making our homes, and our communities the best places that they can be. We can and should pray for peace but this war is not ours.   By taking sides we’re only damaging ourselves. Our best policy is to stay away.

About the Author
Carol Ungar is a prize-winning author who writes from the Judean Hills.
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