Anything but a Sweet New Year for Ukraine's Jews

As we get ready to join family and loved ones to share in the joy of the new year, let's first remember the thousands of embattled Jews in the Ukraine, where 5775 will start off as anything but sweet.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine may have eased following a cease-fire agreed to on Sept. 5, but tensions remain high between the government and pro-Russian separatists. Residents in places like Donetsk and Lugansk know the relative calm can be replaced by shelling at any time.

Our friends at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee have an active presence in Ukraine helping vulnerable Jews, and report the situation is grim for the thousands who remain in the conflict zone as well as for thousands more who have fled to other parts of Ukraine and Russia.

Alan GillAlan Gill, JDC’s CEO, was in Ukraine earlier this month, where many of the Jews left are poor and elderly. Many lack enough food and medicine while facing shortages of water and electricity. “Their welfare, their recovery, their ability to move beyond the trauma, is and will be our charge, and our legacy,” Gill wrote on the JDC blog.

But there is also hope among the ruins. Gill, left, visited a new JCC in one city, and met some remarkable teens and young adults. Despite the anguish and uncertainty that has dominated their lives, they are sanguine about the future. “Their Jewishness is a major pillar in their identity and helps provide a strengthened sense of community to cope with whatever lies ahead,” Gill wrote.

Even if the guns stay quiet, life will remain difficult for many Ukrainians. Adequate heat is a constant problem. Russia is Ukraine’s main fuel supplier, raising the expectation of significantly higher costs most can ill afford. A return to conflict could also result in gas and oil deliveries being cut off.

This is the stark, bitter reality faced by the Jews of eastern Ukraine, one most of us cannot even begin to imagine. But amid the trials and tribulations, inspiration can be found. After all, this is the fifth-largest Jewish community in the world, one that pogroms, the Holocaust and Communists could not vanquish. As Alan Gill discovered, the spirits of Ukrainian Jews are bent but not broken. Their wounds are slow to heal, but their will to survive is indomitable. Against daunting odds, let’s hope they can once again have a shanah tovah.

To learn more about JDC’s work in Ukraine, visit