Wednesday March 2, 2022 / 29 Adar I 5782
Dear TBC Family,
As many of you know, I traveled last week to Paris with my daughter, Rosella where she attended a ballet intensive. We were joined by my colleague and good friend, and my brother, Bernard. While Rosie danced, we explored museums, galleries, restaurants, and enjoyed our share of wine, cheese and chocolate. I share this as the backdrop, the context if you will, into which we awoke in the middle of the night on February 23rd to learn of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. To be in Europe, in Paris, as bombs were exploding a mere 3-hour plane ride away was surreal and frightening. Like many of you who may also have ancestral ties to Ukraine, we were all dumfounded and shaken by what was, and still is taking place. The tension and fear in Paris were palpable, and for some, terrifying and triggering. Our Airbnb was just a few blocks away from the Elysee Palace, (the official home of the President of France) and as the week wore on, more and more soldiers with machine guns appeared outside its gates.
My brother Bernard Whitman is a longtime political strategist who’s advised figures like Bill Clinton and Michael Bloomberg. He has been regularly featured on CNN, MSNBC and Fox as a commentator and has been involved in 9 presidential campaigns, including one in Ukraine, where he has served as an election observer over the years. He knows the region well and having him with us was a definite comfort. In his estimation, the Ukraine invasion is hugely consequential for Europe and the US, and likely the most significant act of war since Hitler invaded Poland. What the invasion signifies about Russia’s willingness to disregard the rule of law and invade foreign nations should concern us all, no matter how far away from Europe we are. For us, being in Paris as the invasion turned from hypothetical to real - made it crystal clear how alarming the situation is for Europeans. The French newspapers covered little else, the news anchors were fixated on the invasion, and the unease in the streets was significant.
My brother is the expert in geopolitics. I certainly am not, but I am a student of Jewish history, and as such have been paying close attention to how this senseless massacre is affecting Ukraine’s Jews. According to a briefing I attended yesterday, at least 5,000 Ukrainian Jews have asked for immediate Aliyah to Israel – requests which are already being rushed through processing. What madness is it then that Putin has equated President Zelensky’s government with the Nazis, especially since Zelensky himself is Jewish. His great grandfather fought in the Russian army. His grandfather’s three brothers were killed by the Nazis. Putin’s equating Zelensky with that ruthless, inhumane regime is both inaccurate and cruel. All this points, again, not just to the severity of the situation, and the recalcitrance of anti-Semitism, but also to the absolute necessity of Israel as a refuge and haven for all Jews, especially in times of crisis.
For a nuanced perspective of the unfolding invasion in Ukraine, I invite you to tune in this evening 3/2, for an in-depth update and conversation by my colleague Rabbi David Wilfond of Shaaray Tefilah in Bedford, New York. Rabbi Wilfond served as the former Rabbi of The Reform Congregation of Kiev, Ukraine from 1997-1999, and from 2004-2010 as the director of Hebrew Union College’s “Rabbinic Infusion Program" in the former Soviet Union. A Q&A will follow his presentation. Click here to login to the Zoom event, or go to Zoom.us and enter Meeting ID: 831 6162 9803 and Passcode: 309242.
There are many ways you can help Ukraine’s Jews. I urge you to include the people and the leadership of Ukraine in your prayers and to please consider making a donation to the World Union for Progressive Judaism’s Ukraine Crisis Fund. In the words of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy yesterday, “Nazism is born in silence. I am now addressing all the Jews of the world. Do you not see what is happening? It is very important that all of you together, millions of Jews around the world, do not remain silent.”
We will be sure to keep you informed of other opportunities to make an impact financially and locally with donations of food and clothing as we are made aware of these efforts. Together we can stand up and make a difference.
B’shirah uv’racha (In song and blessing)
Cantor Harriet Dunkerley