The eyes of the world have been focused on Ukraine as it was first threatened and now invaded by the Russian Federation. Kyiv is under siege, and Ukrainians are fighting for their lives. This is the largest military conflict in Europe since the Second World War, and it threatens the entire premise that countries are entitled to elect their own governments and live without fear of invasion by their neighbors.
Many members of our GOA community have ties to Ukraine. Our faculty member Jamie Perrello told me yesterday that her son Max was on a train heading west toward Lviv. We pray for his safety. Our senior class is well across the border in Poland as they start their Neshama program with an exploration of the Jewish experience there (click here to see photos and blogs from their experience). They are safe, but this sudden escalation of conflict feels close to home.
Our Chief Financial Officer Julia Malaga wrote a powerful article about the Jewish community of Cherkassy after celebrating her adult bat mitzvah there in 2018 as part of a delegation from our Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest’s Jewish Peoplehood project. Cherkassy is our partner community, and our teacher Danielle Greene has served as counselor at their multigenerational summer camp since 2013. No doubt, many of you have ties as well.
Speaking personally, 103 years ago this week my grandfather Irving (Yitzhak) Brower survived a pogrom in his Ukrainian hometown of Felshtin. There was a civil war in Ukraine after WWI and their town was possessed in turn by Mensheviks, Bolsheviks and then finally by the Ukrainian nationalists led by a modern Haman named Simon Petlura. Petlura’s Cossaks massacred Jews in town after town, including members of my grandfather’s family. Fortunately he was able to hide on the snowy roof of their house, and later to escape west to Lviv, just as so many refugees are doing this week.
My thoughts today are with the people of Ukraine, and with their President, Volodymyr Zelensky, who is a political reformer, and a Jew. Indeed, there is a large Jewish community in Ukraine, including a Masorti congregation in Kyiv—I am friendly with their rabbi, and recruited a woman from Kyiv to JTS 5 years ago. She is about to be ordained as a rabbi this May and hopes to head back to serve the Jewish community of Ukraine, though that plan is suddenly in doubt. Another friend who is a Chabad rabbi notes that they have 52 communities across the country, all in harm’s way. Ukraine had been emerging as a bright spot of Jewish renewal until now, and I am terribly concerned for the lives of our extended family there.
What can we do? Sadly it is not within our power to stop the invasion, but we can follow events closely, pray for the people who have been invaded, and support the needy. I have donated to a special campaign of the Joint Distribution Committee to help the Jews of Ukraine, and I encourage your family to find appropriate ways to lend support. This Shabbat is known as “Shekalim” because we read about the ancient obligation for every Jew to donate a half-shekel to support the public needs of our community. Think about what you can do to help those in harm’s way, and let your voice be heard through words and actions.