Being a Jew in Ukraine: The difference eighty years makes – The Times of Israel

Posted By on March 8, 2022

In the twenty-first century a democratic European country is being invaded by a totalitarian aggressor and the world watches and does not intervene militarily. History does indeed repeat itself. It is eerily reminiscent of how the world stood by in silence in the twentieth century as another totalitarian dictator gobbled up Czechoslovakia and Austria. Appeasing evil is never the solution. The free world is bombarded with images of destroyed cities and we hear about civilian deaths and MILLIONS of refugees and yet, besides offering words of condemnation, shelter for refugees, and economic sanctions, there is no real military support on the ground as the Ukrainian armed forces and people battle alone against the Russian juggernaut engaged in a military invasion with the aim of occupying the country. They are using massive force which indiscriminately targets the civilian population. What will we tell our children?

Of the many images from the current Russian war of aggression, one that stands out in my eyes, is that of one hundred Ukrainian Jewish orphans arriving in Israel. In 1942 these helpless Jewish orphans would have been murdered by the Nazis, and their helpers, for the crime of being Jewish. There was no where to run and no one to protect them.

Ukrainian Jewish orphans arriving in Israel. Photo (c) Zionist Federation of Australia, 2022

Thank God we live in 2022 where it is a blessing to be Jewish. There is a place to seek refuge and to protect Jews where ever we are. We no longer have to rely on the pity of our host nations, but are in control of our own destiny. This new reality is all because of the very existence of the State of Israel and the IDF. Natan Sharansky eloquently summarized the difference that eighty years make for us Jews.

When I was growing up in Ukraine, in Donetsk, there were a lot of nations and nationalities. There were people who had Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Kozaki written on their IDs. It was not so important, there was no big difference, but one thing was important if it said Jew, it was as if you had an illnessI was reminded of it this this week when I saw thousands of people standing at the borders, trying to escape the tragedy in Ukraine. They stand there day and night, and there is only one word that can help them get out of there: Jew. If you are a Jew there are Jews out there who take care of you, there is someone on the other side of the border who is looking for you, your chances of leaving are high. The world has turned upside down. When I was a child, Jew was an unusual word for evil, no one envied us, and today on the Ukrainian border a Jew is an unusual word for good, it describes people who have a place to go and there is an entire nation , which is their family, waiting for them outside.

Natan Sharansky. Illustration, (c) T. Book, 2022

Like the mythical Phoenix arising from the ashes of Europe, our State arose and was reborn. Nobody handed us our State, in the words of Chaim Weitzman, on a silver platter. It rose because of the selfless courage of generations of selfless young men and women who were and are still prepared to step forward and walk the walk. For just as in the previous century the young Chalutzim (Pioneers) recreated a brave new Jewish land by planting our land one tree at a time and revived our language one word at a time and restored our sense of self-worth one defender at a time, so today we are blessed with a generation of young boys and girls who serve in the IDF. They stand for what it means to have our own country. A country that will aid those less fortunate whatever their religion, race, or creed. In addition to sending in tons of vital supplies, the State of Israel is currently in the process of building a mobile field hospital in Ukraine. Israel strives to be a light unto the nations. Daniel Gordis succinctly summed it up when he stated that, in addition to striving for the benefit our own citizens,

This country has become a country, with all of its imperfections, that sees as part of its purpose as looking out for other people.

We live in an age of miracles and wonders. We live in an age of having our own Jewish state that will happily absorb our Jewish brothers and sisters from the four corners of the earth. The hope (Hatikvah) of two thousand years, to be a free people in our land is indeed a reality. What a difference eighty years makes!

Dr. Tuvia Book was born in London and raised in both the UK and South Africa. After making Aliya at the age of 17 and studying in Yeshiva he volunteered for the IDF, where he served in an elite combat unit. Upon his discharge he completed his BA at Bar-Ilan University, as well as certification in graphic design. He then served as the Information Officer at the Israeli Consulate of Philadelphia, while earning a graduate degree in Jewish Studies. Upon his return to Israel, Dr. Book graduated from a course of study with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and is a licensed tour guide.Tuvia has been working in the field of Jewish Education, both formal and informal, for many years. He has guided and taught Jewish students and educators from around the English-speaking world for some of Israels premier educational institutions and programs. Tuvia has been guiding groups for Birthright Israel since its inception and, in addition, has lectured throughout North America, Australia, Europe and South Africa. Tuvia served as a Shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish Agency for Israel as the Director of Israel and Zionist Education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (Jewish Education Project). He was a lecturer/educational guide at the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE) in Israel for a decade. Tuvia has lectured at both Bar Ilan University and Hebrew University. He was a Senior Editor and Teaching Fellow at the Tikvah Fund. He is a research associate at the Hudson Institute.Tuvia is the author and illustrator the internationally acclaimed Israel education curriculum; "For the Sake of Zion; A Curriculum of Israel Studies" (Fifth edition, Koren 2017), and "Moral Dilemmas of the Modern Israeli Soldier" (Rama, 2011) and has a doctorate in Israel Education. His latest book, "Jewish Journeys, The Second Temple Period to the Bar Kokhba Revolt 536 BCE-136 CE," was published by Koren this year. To order:

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Being a Jew in Ukraine: The difference eighty years makes - The Times of Israel

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