For the first time since the recent uprising in Ukraine began, the violence has reached the Jewish community. On Monday night, Molotov cocktails were lobbed at the newly-built synagogue and Jewish community center of Zaporozhye, in southeastern Ukraine.
The masked perpetrators managed to leave the premises without being apprehended by the community center’s security personnel; however, they were caught on camera.
The community center, which was sponsored by local Jewish businessman Israel Debretzky, was dedicated a little more than two years ago amid great pomp and celebration. It appears that the firebombs struck exterior stone walls; the damage was almost entirely cosmetic.
Chabad Rabbi Nachum Ehrentrau, who also serves as chief rabbi of the city and the surrounding region, says the center is frequented by dozens of local Jewish people on a daily basis, with up to 800 congregants attending High Holiday services.
At the time of the attack, the building had been closed for the night, although he says that Chabad Rabbi Michael Oishie had left just 20 minutes beforehand.
The police responded immediately. But the rabbi says that—although they have been helpful and shown a willingness to assist the community—they are occupied with the main chaos that has erupted in the city, which will hamper their ability to dedicate significant resources to investigate what happened to the Jewish community center.
According to the Ehrentrau, the center was well-protected.
“Our synagogue is surrounded by a barrier, the doors are all automatic, and we have round-the-clock security staff,” he says. “In these uncertain times, we are, of course, even more cautious, doing all we can to ensure the safety of the community center and its visitors.”
The rabbi describes the atmosphere in his city as one of confusion. “On one hand, there are those who are urging people to evacuate. On the other hand, there are those who are minimizing the risks,” he explains. “It is important to remember that the opposition has been in the government for four year, and has kept very good relations with Jewish people and the Jewish community. Yet in a time of chaos and uncertainty, we must keep a low profile and avoid unnecessary friction.”
When asked what he plans to do, his answer is clear. “Our job is to promote Torah and to help bring Jews back to their roots. We aren’t looking to get entangled in politics.”
He did, however, express his hope that the community would receive protection for its schools, synagogues, charitable organizations and early-childhood centers in the days ahead.