Daily Israel Report

Jewish Agency Pledges Emergency Aid to Jewish Groups in Ukraine

Jewish Agency begins aid campaign to help secure Jewish communities affected by unrest in Ukraine.
By Uzi Baruch, Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 2/22/2014, 10:37 PM

Ukraine violence
Ukraine violence
Reuters

The Jewish Agency has pledged emergency humanitarian relief to Ukraine's Jewish community Saturday night, in light of both general unrest and reports of an upswing in anti-Semitism. 

Aid will include securing Jewish community buildings and organizations in the embattled country.

"The Jewish community of Ukraine, which counts some 200,000 members, is one of most vibrant Jewish communities in the world, with dozens of active Jewish organizations and institutions," Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky stated Saturday night.  "Recent events have shown that we must strengthen these institutions' security measures. We have a moral responsibility to ensure the safety and security of Ukraine's Jews."

Over the weekend, Sharansky convened an emergency meeting at his Jerusalem office to assess the situation and determine the Jewish community's immediate needs due to the recent violence in Kiev. Local Jewish leaders have expressed concern to Jewish Agency officials for the safety of the Jewish community if the situation escalates further.

"We are in constant contact with the leadership of the Ukrainian Jewish community and are following the events closely," Sharansky noted. "The Jewish Agency's assistance aims to increase security at Jewish communal institutions in Ukraine." 

The immediate assistance will come from The Jewish Agency's Emergency Assistance Fund for Jewish Communities. The fund was established in the wake of the horrific March 2012 terror attack in Toulouse, in which a Jewish teacher and three Jewish schoolchildren were murdered.

Though most of world Jewry lives in physical safety, the fund provides financial assistance to Jewish communities that have security concerns, strengthening security measures and helping to ensure that Jewish life takes places in safety. The fund has thus far extended some $4 million in financial assistance, helping to ensure the security of some 50 communities in 25 countries, including communities in South Africa, Greece, Brazil, Argentina, and elsewhere.

Recent reports indicated that extremists have been targeting the Jewish community in Ukraine, including a member of the Opposition associated with Neo-Nazi groups.  

Anti-Semitism in Ukraine has picked up throughout the unrest, which began in late November. In January, unknown assailants stabbed a hareidi man in Kiev as he was making his way home from synagogue on a Friday night; earlier this week, anti-Semitic graffiti was sprayed on a Holocaust memorial in the city of Alexandria. 

Even before the recent unrest, Jews in the Ukraine have been the targets of anti-Semitic acts.  Last year, the president of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress narrowly escaped with his life after a bomb was hurled at his car as it pulled out from an office.

In the wake of the anti-Semitism, local Jews have been careful not to wear a kippah in public and security has increased at Jewish institutions in the city.

The Ukrainian Jewish community is one of the largest Jewish communities in the world, with some 200,000 members. Most Jews reside in the capital, Kiev, and there are thriving communities in Odessa, Lvov, and Dnepropetrovsk. 

The Jewish Agency has long been active in Ukraine, strengthening the community's ties to Israel and the Jewish world and assisting those who wish to immigrate to Israel. Some 2,000 community members make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel) each year, and tens of thousands participate in Jewish Agency activities, including Hebrew classes, summer camps, and such Israel experience programs as Taglit-Birthright Israel and Masa Israel Journey. 

Over 330,000 Ukrainian Jews have made Aliyah since the collapse of the Soviet Union, including some 2,200 last year.