Hatred Rooted in History Continues Today
April 29, 2014
Dear Friends of The Fellowship,
It was a scene reminiscent of life in Nazi-occupied countries during World War II. Recently, Jewish residents of the eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk reported that while standing outside of a synagogue they were met by masked men passing out flyers demanding that Jewish residents immediately register their citizenship and their property. Failure to comply, the flyers said, would result in revocation of citizenship, confiscation of property, and deportation. A $50 fee was required for the “registration.”
The flyers bore the name of Denis Pushilin, a prominent pro-Russian separatist who now heads Donetsk’s provisional government. Pushilin denied any connection to the flyers, calling them a hoax and a “provocation” by Ukrainian sympathizers. To date, it’s uncertain who exactly is responsible for sending this reprehensible message to Donetsk’s Jews.
And in some respects, asking who is responsible is missing the point. If the flyers were not created and distributed by a pro-Russian group – if, instead, they were created by pro-Ukrainians to discredit the Russians – it is hardly a comfort. And it certainly won’t help alleviate the fears of Ukraine’s Jewish community, who see themselves as mere pawns in the bitter power struggle that has caused widespread civil unrest and violence in the region.
That someone was able to distribute the flyers with no fear of retribution from civil authorities, or with no fear of public backlash, highlights the anti-Semitism that took root long ago in this part of the world and continues to this day, as well as the great uncertainty and unease that Ukrainian Jews face. One rabbi in Donetsk summed it up: "Last time Donetsk saw similar messages was in 1941, when the Nazi German army occupied Donetsk. Another commented, “… for us, it doesn’t matter who made it. For us, the terrible fact is that someone made it.”
All of this occurred as Jews around the world prepared to observe Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) which began at sundown this past Sunday. On this day we honoured those who were murdered during that horrible chapter in history, and gave thanks for those who fought back against Nazi evil. We also reminded ourselves that, though we often like to think we live in a more civilized time, the animating force behind the Holocaust – hateful anti-Semitism – is as alive and well as it ever has been.
We see this today whenever we turn on the news. In Ukraine, a synagogue is firebombed and Jewish institutions are vandalized. In the Kansas City suburbs of the U.S., an avowed anti-Semite attacks a Jewish community center, killing three. In France, a Jewish teacher is beaten by three men, and a swastika is drawn on his chest. And, sadly, the list could go on.
On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we remembered all those who were murdered simply because they were Jewish, as well as those who stood up to protect the innocent and fight for what is right – among them many Christians who we now recognize and honour as “righteous gentiles.” Going forward, please keep the Jewish community of Ukraine, and Jews anywhere who must live daily with the threat of anti-Semitic hatred, intimidation, and violence, in your prayers. And pray, too, for the day that God will bring to all of us His most precious gift – the gift of shalom, peace.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews® of Canada