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September 18, 2014 / 23 Elul, 5774
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Ukraine and the Question of Jewish Identity

Like a candle lit in a dark room, the light of positive Jewish identity has the power to dispel the darkness of the debate and uncertainty over Ukrainian-Russian identity (and beyond).
Text of anti-Semitic flyer distributed to Jews in Donetsk, Ukraine on Passover 2014.

Text of anti-Semitic flyer distributed to Jews in Donetsk, Ukraine on Passover 2014.
Photo Credit: Courtesy, Israel Matzav blog

Since unmarked soldiers first appeared on Ukrainian soil it was clear that the main story of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict was going to be about identity.

While reporters knew that these were likely Russian soldiers taking up strategic positions inside Ukraine, since they didn’t come waving Russian flags (or the like), the reports were inconclusive. Whereas common sense may win out for readers, the role of a journalist (officially at least) is to base their reporting on hard facts. And since there was no AP picture of one of these soldiers waving a Russian flag, the reports remained inconclusive for some time.

But headlines have a way or repeating themselves…

While the recent headlines coming out of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict began as a debate over the identity of soldiers, the story then shifted into nationalistic identity, and whether parts of Ukraine would now identify themselves with and become part of Russia.

The Third Shift

But the reason this article is being written is because of a third shift. This time instead of the question of identity being over soldiers or nationalism, it has shifted over to the identification, the public registration of a people.

Although the flyer ordering Jews to register may seem like a self-enclosed headline, this is not the case. But whereas this identification story may seem all dark and negative, there is one remarkable result to come from this otherwise anti-semitic act: the awakening of Jewish identity.

Last Thursday while researching for an upcoming article, I found myself reading material from a popular secular site. As I was about to leave, their site’s Twitter feed caught my attention. Just at that moment, one of their writers had tweeted about the anti-semitic flyer.

Whether it was a hoax or not there are two things that still make a difference. The first is that this was an anti-semitic act. But Hasidism teaches that a little light dispels much darkness. So while we should certainly hold these flyer distributors accountable, the greater story lies in the awakening of Jewish identity that resulted. Although secular papers question whether this headline should have gone viral to begin with, what is beyond question is the great display of Jewish identity that resulted.

Meditating on Identity

We said before that these flyers caused the question of identity to shift from nationalism to people. But similar to the unmarked soldiers that we began with, what matters most is the inner identity of the Jewish people.

This is what we experienced en masse during these past few days. No matter what their present level of observance, tens of thousands of Jews from around the world started asking what they could do to help.

But the lesson from this meditation is that hidden behind the anti-semitic act is the greatest light. Since the Ukrainian-Russian conflict is over identity, the Jewish people can help to ameliorate the situation from making our own identity headlines. Like a candle lit in a dark room, the light of positive Jewish identity has the power to dispel the darkness of the debate and uncertainty over Ukrainian-Russian identity (and beyond).

This does not mean that Jews living in Ukraine or Russia should take a side. Instead the completion of this meditation is that resolution is the natural result. That from an increased Jewish identity from Jews living in the Ukraine, Russian, or elsewhere, we should merit to the easing of identity conflicts there and around the world.

For those interested, the relationship between light (Chanukah) and identity (Purim) is explained here.

About the Author: Yonatan Gordon has spent most of his past 13 professional years in the world of Jewish publishing. He was the Marketing Manager at Kehot Publication Society (publishing arm of Chabad) for the better part of six years. He is founder of the website Community of Readers.

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23 Responses to “Ukraine and the Question of Jewish Identity”

  1. It’s a fake fabricated by Putin’s ministry of propaganda.

  2. No wonder, Ukraine has historic roots of harsh antisemitims, that shined during WWII when lots of (but not all!) Ukrainians aligned with the Nazis and betrayed the Soviet Union in their war against the Nazis.

  3. Of course it’s. Ukraine is ruled by two Jews (really great Ukrainian politicians) – Yatsenyuk and Groisman, and the Ukrainian Jews always were and are Ukrainian patriots, even in the time of the Russian empire and the USSR, and much more now as Ukrainian citizens in a democratic country. This, of course, Kremlin can’t stand. Since the beginning of the Maydan reform movement, Kremlin talks about “the Maydan, which is paid by Israel and Jews and organized by them” (!). When that horrible rhetoric didn’t work, Kremlin started to stage the theater with the anti-Semitism acting, with the intention to destroy the trust between the non-Jewish Ukrainian citizens and the Jewish Ukrainian citizens. More awful I find, how many people can’t make the difference and can’t see what is going on there, and speak like uneducated children about the “bad life for Jews in the Ukraine”, while Ukraine is not only pro-Jewish and support its own Jewish citizens but stays in very good relashionships with the state of israel in this time, and is ruled, as I wrote, by a PM and a vize-PM who are Jews.

  4. They want to show that the Jews in the Ukraine is threatened.

  5. its caused the jews to return to israel, so its had its use, i think it was fake, EU is set up to attack the jews, esp with the negagive press

  6. Lyna Degen says:

    Well, it is a fake, but still nobody knows who fabricated it. Actually the schmuck Putin is the last one who would profit as it pretends to be written by the pro-Russians. Vessela Kulev, again pretending to be Jewish :) And explaining to the world that Ukraine is ruled by Jews :) Come on! You should know better! Svoboda got scored six major cabinet ministries http://peoplesworld.org/ukrainian-ultra-rightists-given-major-cabinet-posts-in-government/

  7. Lyna Degen says:

    And here you can see how the brave Ukrainians are reburying 16 Ukrainian SS-members. Lovely!http://youtu.be/zhkIxwoNJOA

  8. Lyna Degen says:

    The flyers were fake, but this is real. Members of the nazi party ‘Svoboda’, who got 6 major cabinet ministrieshttp://peoplesworld.org/ukrainian-ultra-rightists-given-major-cabinet-posts-in-government/ , are reburying members of the SS-division with honours. Kol Hakavod! http://youtu.be/zhkIxwoNJOA


  10. stop anti-semitic in Ukraine

  11. Lyna, I’m a part Jewish by my mother’s side. Mr Yatsenyuk, Mr Groisman, who rule Ukraine now, and Mr Kolomoyski, who is the leader of the Right sector in Ukraine are ‘whole’ Jewish native Ukrainian politicians. The Russian and (the Left in your case) propaganda totally sucks. Let the people in Ukraine be united and free in their own country. Or with the words of Vadim Rabinovich, “Don’t believe the Kremlin’s Bolshevik propaganda and its Left Western co-propagandists!” – http://maidantranslations.com/2014/02/25/statement-of-vadim-rabinovich-president-of-the-all-ukrainian-jewish-congress-co-chair-of-the-european-jewish-parliament/

  12. And what do you want to say exactly with the link to some small group of some crazy people in some village? Crazy people are anywhere in our democratic world – the KKK in USA or some domestic US anti-Semitic groups are more representative and much more dangerous than those poor guys there in your link.

  13. Let the Ukrainian Jewish community speaks – Chief Rabbi and many other Jewish leaders in Ukraine dismiss Putin’s “anti-Semitic extremist” claims: http://khpg.org/index.php?id=1393978300

  14. Lyna Degen says:

    Vessela, probably your “Jweish” part is very small, if existing at all, taking into consideration you are a religious Christian:) But this is not the problem. Thank you for calling my posts Left propaganda :) I this is the typical defence on the Bulgarian pages, but here we are on a Jewish one, where a lot of people have families from Ukraine. How left to say that the Ukrainian antisemitic traditions are as bad as the Russian ones :) How left of the Simon Wisenthal center to put the leader of Svoboda OLEG TYAGNIBOK (6 major ministries in the Ukrainian cabinet) on the 5th place in the list of the Top 10 worst antisemists! http://www.wiesenthal.com/atf/cf/%7B54d385e6-f1b9-4e9f-8e94-890c3e6dd277%7D/TT_2012_3.PDF

  15. Lyna Degen says:

    And the Ukrainians never took part in the killing of Jews. Sure :) http://www.ushmm.org/m/pdfs/20130500-holocaust-in-ukraine.pdf

  16. The Ukrainians are acting lawlessly. Don’t blame the givers of the Law. The solution I feel is for a national refendum should Ukraine become two countries West and East. Still follow the golden rule in how you treat others.

  17. Hey Lyna, when i expose them, they pull antisemitic card on me :))

  18. Lyna Degen says:

    Don’t worry, this Vessela just wrote on her page that I am “not actually Jewish” :), pro-Putin (!!!), that I work as a telephonist ( I am a researcher) and that my family was “Bolshevik killers”. Well, that’s how they call the Jewish resistance during WWII today in Bulgaria. I don’t take any sides in Ukraine, just follow what is happening, I am against Russian intervention in the country, but I don’t close my eyes about Svoboda and the Right sector.

  19. Of course, Lyna has some other explanation for everything, she writes in pro-Kremlins sites in Russian and comes from a famous Bolshevik family, the Polikarp(ov)s, as I learned. Whatever… May HaShem bless the Jewish citizens of Ukraine and Ukraine itself!

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