The JFNA 2013 Rabbinic Cabinet mission of 32 rabbis to Kiev, Ukraine, and Israel offered the rabbis representing all denominations from across the country a chance to see first-hand the inspiring work the American Jewish community does on behalf of Jews around the world through our overseas agencies, the Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
The mission affirms our common fate and destiny and the Talmud’s mandate that we are obligated to care for each other. In addition to witnessing the outreach efforts to provide aid and support to Jews in remote areas and the programs that sustain Jewish life, we fanned out in vans to 10 locations across the city to teach Jews thirsting for knowledge about Judaism.
But we had an additional item on our agenda. We have been concerned on behalf of Kiev’s Jewish community about anti-Semitism, especially as manifested by the increasing popularity of the openly anti-Semitic Svoboda Party. So the Cabinet officers had a meeting with Ukrainian officials, Oleksandr Lavrynovych, the minister of justice, and Tymophiy Kohan, the first deputy of the culture ministry, which has jurisdiction on matters of religion. (These were arranged with the help of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.) We used our meetings to express our concerns and were pleased to hear Minister Lavrynovych denounce the Svoboda Party in strong unequivocal language. Turning to the rabbis in the room, he likened its members’ extremist ideology to fascism and communism, saying it was no different from what Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf. He explained that the party originally had been called the National Socialist party but, because this too closely resembled the formal name of the Nazi party, it was changed to its current name, which means freedom. He made his contempt clear by calling this a cynical attempt at rebranding.
For his part, the culture minister told us he visits Israel an average of four times a year. He made a point of letting us know that the absence of the Ukrainian ambassador to the United Nations at the time of the vote on Palestinian sovereignty was not coincidental, but a sign of support for the American and Israeli position.
Ukrainian democracy is young, and still in the formative stages. It has much work to do. It, like other new countries that were created after the collapse of the Soviet Union, has only
known independence for about 20 years. I reminded the justice minister that the Torah teaches, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” I was pleasantly surprised that he was not only familiar with the passage, but cited other references in the Torah as well. I suggested that to a large extent the freedom and independence enjoyed by Ukraine was a direct result and byproduct
of the Soviet Jewry movement.
These visits with government officials offered us the chance to serve as emissaries of the Jews of Ukraine and the United States. They were an extension of our visits with the Jews and Jewish organizations of Kiev and allowed us to advocate on their behalf so that the government would know that Jews around the world care about what happens to our fellow coreligionists. We had the chance to act on the Talmud’s stipulation that “all Jews are responsible for one another.”
Rabbi Stuart G. Weinblatt is the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac and chairman, JFNA Rabbinic Cabinet.