This was my message to the LJS community today about the Ukraine. The original can be found here. I’m pleased to say I’ve raised the immediate funds necessary for a guard at the Simferopol community.
Dear Members and Friends,
I wanted to update you about some work I’ve been doing in relation to the Ukraine as I think the issue is important to us as Jews worried about other Jewish communities and also because I am concerned about the vulnerability of ethnic communities in the Ukraine and specifically the Crimea and the threat to democracy. Over the last few days I have been in regular contact with World Jewish Relief (WJR), various lay leaders and academic experts along with Rabbi Misha Kapustin who is the rabbi in Simferopol. Rabbi Kapustin was ordained a year ahead of me at the Leo Baeck College. You will see in the Jewish Chronicle this week that Rabbi Kapustin and the progressive Jewish movement in the Ukraine have been quoted extensively, as the Simferopol Progressive Synagogue was vandalised and Rabbi Kapustin is feeling very anxious about the occupation of the Crimea by the Russians, along with the threat to democracy and the bubbling antisemitism that seems to be growing.
At the moment, World Jewish Relief are preparing for an increase in economic hardship because the economy is in a very bad state and as a result the people they work with may soon feel a tighter squeeze on funds. Should anything like a humanitarian emergency unfold Paul Anticoni, the CEO of World Jewish Relief, is well prepared to respond through their partner organisations and I should note that WJR would not just provide support to the Jewish community but the population as a whole.
But more than all of this, it is clear to me that the mix of economic problems, threats to freedom and democracy and rising nationalist tensions are contributing to an increased nervousness for ethnic communities. We may not have any control over Russian and Ukrainian negotiations but I do think it is important for us as Jews to speak out in the name of freedom and democratic rule which is clearly being threatened at the moment. Moreover, we must make the case for ensuring that violence does not erupt against regional ethnic minorities, particularly non-Russian communities in the Crimea and that includes, of course, the Jewish community.
Rabbi Kapustin is very nervous about what may happen in Simferopol. He described to me how no-one is bothered about the vandalism to his synagogue that included graffiti that said, “Kill the Jews”. He cancelled services on Shabbat morning because he did not want his community to be at undue risk and he has avoided making statements to various media for fear it will inflame tensions. He wrote:
“The synagogue was vandalized almost a week ago, but nobody asked us for video-recording of it. The police would do and does nothing. Nobody cares in this chaos.
Today I was live on a local (Crimean Tartar channel), for 30 min I did not really answer a single question, since the community might suffer. Then I was interviewed by an Israeli channel, then by one of the high-rate Ukrainian channel, then by the Jewish Chronicle and then by the Norwegian newspaper. I could allow myself to say something to foreign mass-media, but could not to a local one.
What I say is there is a tension, uncertainty and concern.”
Finally, Rabbi Kapustin has told me that they really need some financial assistance to protect the synagogue with security guards and has asked if I can find just £500 which may cover the next couple of weeks at least. If you feel you could contribute to our fellow progressive congregation in the Crimea in this way then please let me know by email n.janes(at)ljs.org.
I’ll finish with Rabbi Kapustin’s words: with hope for peaceful solution
Rabbi Neil Janes