Ukraine: The Jewish Agency Answers the Call
When one of The Jewish Agency-affiliated groups in Kiev cancelled its Hanukkah party for security reasons last December, Marina Shteiman, The Jewish Agency’s director of community and donor relations, realized that difficult times were on the horizon. The nightclub that was to host the party is located near the location where the political protest was beginning to gather steam, and the party organizers were concerned about staging a Hanukkah party so close to Maidan. Later, she watched on her office computer live footage of angry protestors in masks as they destroyed a statue of Vladimir Lenin.

“I do not know what would happen if we did not cancel the party,” she said. “Maybe nobody would care about a Jewish celebration nearby. But I am still happy I was far from the city center on that particular night.”

In recent weeks, the world has watched the situation in Kiev become increasingly bloody. Last week, some 70 people were killed before the parliament stripped the government of its authority. Amidst a growing sense of uncertainly over Ukraine’s economic viability and its political future – especially the possibility that the upcoming elections could bring more violence – there is a particular concern within the global Jewish family for the well-being of Jews living in Ukraine. Through its Emergency Assistance Fund, made possible in part by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, The Jewish Agency for Israel will help provide security upgrades at specific locations, such as synagogues community centers, yeshivas, kindergartens, camp venues, and day schools. Currently, The Agency is working with its local partners to identify what the upgrades will be and where they are most needed.

Earlier this week, it was reported that a Synagogue in Eastern Ukraine was hit by a Molotov cocktail. While there have not been reports that individual Jews have been targeted, there is a degree of concern for personal safety. Marina said that she’s heard about several cases of robbery, attacks and violence.

“It is really difficult to say what party or movement [the assailants] belong to,” Marina said. “The national currency is losing value and many banks have introduced restrictions on cash withdrawal and currency exchanges. People are worried about possible default, closure of businesses and unemployment.”

Despite the Jewish community’s anxiety over an uncertain future in Ukraine, Jewish life and the work of The Jewish Agency continues. The Agency’s office closed last Wednesday and Thursday, as the violence peaked, but it reopened on Sunday, February 23 with reduced working hours so employees can travel home before dark. The Agency is continuing its Aliyah seminars and Israel Experience workshops as well as training for summer camp counselors. Jewish Agency winter day camps, critical venues for developing connections to Jewish life, will take place in late March with necessary security precautions. Also for March, the Jewish community of Kiev is planning an Israel Experience fair and a Purim celebration. As the situation remains fluid, a determination on whether to hold these high-profile events will be made at a later date and in concert with Jewish Agency security officers.

Since 1929, The Jewish Agency has ensured that Jews worldwide have a thriving and welcoming homeland in Israel should they choose to make Aliyah. While there is no increase in actual immigration from Ukraine, The Agency is seeing a rise in applications for eligibility. Should there be a sudden growth in Aliyah, The Jewish Agency has positioned the necessary resources for a successful absorption. At this point, the Jews of the Ukraine know that their Jewish brethren around the world stand with them and that they will not face alone whatever their future has in store.

“I have received dozens of calls and messages from my friends around the world, who were worried about me and offered any help I might need, including a spare bed at their homes,” Marina said. “But it is even more touching to know that Jewish people in Israel, the U.S., and other countries worry about Jews in Ukraine without even knowing us or having visited Kiev.”