Kiev and Our Global Responsibility

by Alan E. Klugman

While the drama continues to unfold in Kiev and other cities across Ukraine, the horrendous television footage reflects chaos. Having visited Kiev as a professional, I understand how little we know about the social and political complexities of the country. Yet, I feel responsible for the Jewish community of Ukraine, today the fifth largest in the world. Major international Jewish organizations working with the Jewish Federation of Ukraine are doing what they can provide the basic necessities for the elderly, the isolated, and those whose lives have been touched by the street violence.

Realistically, although there is little we can do to keep bad things from happening to our people in Ukraine, I strongly believe that we can be supportive in several ways. In my own organization, tragically, the clashes have already taken the life of the father of one of our ORT students. We are providing increased safety measures, and reaching out with to raise the $200,000 to expand security at all four Ukraine ORT school campuses.

World ORT’s Director General, Shmuel Sisso, said professional staff on the ground in Ukraine have expressed their deep anxiety about the safety of the thousands of students attending ORT schools in four Ukraine cities:  Kiev, Chernovtsy, Odessa and Zaporozhe.  While the unrest remains centered in the capital city of Kiev, the situation is volatile throughout the entire country.  Local governmental authorities have attempted to maintain a sense of “business as usual”, however, very few students are attending classes out of fear for their own security.

On a larger scale, there is a concern that the turmoil in Ukraine, one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities, could become the target of the lingering unrest although the Jewish community is not endangered at this time, according to Jewish communal professionals on the ground.

Rabbi Yaakov David Bleich, one of Ukraine’s chief rabbis, said this week that the big challenge now is putting the government back together again so that there can be comprehensive order in society. He also expressed concern for the safety of the Jewish community, though not, per se, as Jews. Unlike foreigners or tourists, they have nowhere to flee, he said. One of his major goals is the protection of Jewish schools and community centers, which rely on private security services.

For me, the bottom line is doing what we can. As Jews, it is our responsibility to come to the aid of vulnerable population to ensure their wellbeing and safety. I recognized that all of this might seem far away to us, but it’s important that we remember how interconnected we are with the plight, security, and survival of the global Jewish community.

Alan E. Klugman serves as National Executive Director of ORT America.