Trudy Rubin: Trump Further Destabilizes Middle East

Columnist Trudy Rubin. Photo: @trudirubin

Columnist Trudy Rubin. Photo: @trudirubin

Despite the cold, over 100 people came to Congregation Adath Jeshurun (AJ) in Elkins Park on a Sunday morning to hear Trudy Rubin speak about foreign policy, including the politics and prospects for the Middle East. Rubin is the well known “Worldview” columnist for “The Inquirer” and is syndicated in other newspapers across the nation. The event was sponsored by the AJ Adult Education Committee.

Coming just two days after President Trump’s travel ban on Muslim countries, Rubin had much to say. The travel ban, she pointed out, does not reach the countries from which the largest number and worst terrorists have come to the United States. (Editor: By far, the majority of U.S terrorist attacks are perpetrated by Americans!) Neither does it take into account its possible destabilizing effects. For example, she noted that Jordan is an important ally of the U.S. But it is also host to one hundred thousand Syrian refugees, and is unable to afford to house or feed them or find them jobs. The American ban sets a precedent that is bad for the situation in Jordan. The government of Jordan holds a tenuous grasp on the situation, and our action endangers it. [Read more…]

Ukrainian Jewish Women Undertake Urgent Activism

Last Wednesday, a Jewish retiree was killed in the eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk when shells fired by pro-Russian insurgents hit her home.

Over 300,000 Jews live in Ukraine. To see how they are responding since my previous contact with them in November, I contacted Project Kesher, an organization active in helping women in the region restore their Jewish identity that also provides training in leadership and social activism towards building a civil society. (Full disclosure: This is an organization that I support and have taught for overseas and in the U.S.) Their executive director Karyn Gershon responded:

I just returned from Israel, where I saw several Project Kesher leaders from eastern Ukraine who have made aliyah [immigrated to Israel]. I was really moved to know that they left the support of the Project Kesher network in Ukraine and arrived immediately into the arms of the Project Kesher network in Israel. Those who live in the rest of Ukraine are worried about family and friends throughout the country who have been harmed by the war. But, they have not expressed any interest in leaving. They remain perpetually optimistic, but realistic, about the will of Europe and the U.S. to stabilize their country and work for a peaceful resolution.

Activist Torah Study Leads to Response-Ability

Project Kesher organizes used Torahs for their groups to share in their communities.

Project Kesher organizes used Torahs for their groups to share in their communities.

At a Project Kesher briefing for supporters in late November, we learned about their “activist Torah study” approach, which has inspired Eastern European Jewish women to make caring visits to displaced Ukrainian refugees, as well as to hold tolerance-building meetings between Russian and Ukrainians. When Torah is this fulfilling, the yearning to hold and have a kosher Torah scroll within your community becomes a value. Project Kesher also organizes used Torahs for their groups to share in their communities.

Irina Skaliankina is a resident of Tula, Russia who heads Project Kesher’s Beit Binah “Text to Activism” program of Jewish learning and living. “Everything we do is because of Torah,” she said. “Torah inspires our lives and supports us through painful times.”

IrinaVlada

Irina Skaliankina (left) and Vlada Bystrova Nedak.

Skaliankina was holding reconditioned Torah, an extra one that had been sitting unused in the ark, gifted from an American congregation to a town in her region. She hugged the Torah in her arms with passion born of experiencing the love that comes from such learning.

Vlada Bystrova Nedak is a Project Kesher activist and resident of Krivoy Rog, Ukraine, a city of 80,000 where she estimates 12,000 Jewish reside, with about half active in the Jewish communnity. She stood to Skaliankina’s left, also holding a Torah similarly destined, when described how Irina’s ability to use stories from Torah and other Jewish sacred sources to help her spirits when challenging times get her down.

Ignoring “Us” and “Them”

Skliankina demonstrated the current Text to Activism model during a break out session. First she brought everyone’s fullness of spirit into the room in a manner rich in grace and enthusiasm, asking us, “What does shalom mean to you?”

Our answers included “Hello, goodbye and peace” and went beyond to include “wholeness”, “equanimity,” “a worldwide condition of safe, respectful, inclusive living for all” and more. Only then, did she turn to the text (translated here):

Our sages taught that the creation of the first human as a solitary being was to show the greatness of God. For when a human prints many coins from one mold, they are all alike, but the Holy One, blessed Be, imprints humans so that not one resembles the other.

— Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 38a

Skliankina asked, “What do you take from this?” Her simple invitation to share from our hearts led to ripples of growing, shared understanding.

We understood the passage to mean each human is intentionally created a unique individual. This requires us to respect and care for each other regardless of “we” or “them”; to appreciate that no one human is inherently more loved by “God” from birth than any other. We understood that wherever in the spectrum of gender, race or health, we are each given our unique divine imprint.

This imprint, it was suggested, might feel less like a printing press and more like the imprint of a divine kiss of life, just as midrash, Jewish commentary, describes the death of Moses as God taking his soul away with a kiss. Or that God could be understood as our source code, which is shared by all of us, leading to our experience of the unity of all being; and unique to all of us, giving life meaning as we work for a kind, inclusive world. Irina’s text study reinforced our activism for the good of all. Afterward, there was vocal resistance to the idea of “all.”

The program for the day continued with a trip to the Ukrainian Museum in Manhattan. On the buses, some questioned why: “Didn’t they hate us and kill us? Don’t they still? Why give any credibility or attention to that culture?”

The Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls taught that resistance is where the greatest potential for growth exists. The Ukrainian Museum was its own answer. At every turn, the ways in which Jewish and Ukrainian cultural traditions are interwoven were made manifest: the braided bread for greeting guests, the sacred embroidery on garments carrying meaning for leaving, the fabric with symbols that was hung beside doorways much as a mezuzah is, the matchmaker traditions, and more.

The respectful docent, who had advanced education, patiently and brilliantly took us through the exhibition. She was born in the Carpathian Mountains, and felt like a full landswoman. So much is possible when fears are relaxed and communication and understanding commence. Project Kesher had worked its magic again.

Flyers Call on Ukrainian Jews to “Register”


Leaflet distributed in Donetsk, Ukraine, calls for all Jewish people over age 16 to register as Jews. (Photo: The Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism)

Translation from NCSJ:
Dear citizens of Jewish nationality! Due to the fact that leaders of the Jewish Community of Ukraine support the Bandera junta in Kiev and are hostile to the Orthodox Donetsk Republic and its citizens, the main headquarters of the Donetsk Republic declares the following:

  • Every citizen of Jewish nationality older than 16 years, residing in the territory of a sovereign Donetsk Republic has to go to Donetsk Regional Administrator to see the Nationalities Commissioner, Office 514, for registration. The registration fee is $50.
  • Persons should have with them with cash in the amount of $50 for registration, a passport to mark their religion, and documents of family members, as well as ownership documents for their properties and vehicles.
  • In case of failure to register, the perpetrators will lose their citizenship and will be deported outside the republic, with their property confiscated.

— by Elka Looks, Jewish Community Relations Council

The Jewish Community Relations Council was appalled to learn that flyers were distributed in the Ukrainian City of Donetsk calling on Jews to “register” their household with the local Nationalities Commission Office.

The flyers required Jews to bring a $50 fee to cover the placement of a “religious nationality” mark in passports, and to register their property and possessions with local authorities. Jews who failed to comply would face deportation. The flyers were signed in the name of Denis Pushilin, the leader of Donetsk’s pro-Russian separatists, who led the takeover of several government buildings and claimed the city as the Donetsk Republic.

According to the National Conference Supporting Jews in Russia Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia (NCSJ), which has been in direct contact with Donetsk Jewish community leaders, authorities have rejected any association with the flyers, and Pushlin has denied authorship. The origin of the flyers, which were distributed by three individuals wearing ski masks and the flag of the Russian Federation near the Donetsk synagogue, remains unknown.

According to the NCSJ’s statement on this deplorable matter, they are “continuing to work with local Jewish leaders and national officials to do everything possible to find those responsible for this outrageous and reprehensible act, and to hold them accountable.”

JCRC commends Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, both of whom swiftly and unequivocally condemned the flyers. We were also pleased to see the local, national and even international media coverage this heinous act received; we and the world cannot stand idly by.

Ukrainian Government Must Ensure Rights, Safety of Minorities


Protests in Kiev, last week.

— by Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean, Simon Wiesenthal Center

Like millions of concerned people around the world, we hope that the emerging leadership in Ukraine will steer a course based on democratic values and inclusion, including guaranteeing rights and safety for its large Jewish communities and their communal institutions.

As the late Simon Wiesenthal said, “Where democracy is strong, it is good for Jews and where it is weak, it is bad for Jews.” Nothing will better guarantee a future for Ukrainian Jewry than the end of violent confrontations and the restoration of true democratic rule.

World Jewry’s concerns have been heightened with word of a firebomb attack on a synagogue southeast of the capital of Kiev Sunday night.