Betsy Gidwitx Reports



Antisemitism on the Internet is a growing problem, responded Mr. Likachev to a question. The Internet reaches many more people than does print media, and no government legislation is in place to monitor, let alone address, hate speech in electronic media. Between 60 and 70 percent of antisemitic websites originate in Russia, Mr. Likachev commented, because the Internet is more developed there and because all Ukrainians read Russian. Even then, he added, some of the worst Russian antisemitic sites are translated into Ukrainian for the broadest possible exposure. A number of antisemitic forums and blogs exist, he stated; further, those online news sources that seek reader responses often generate substantial antisemitic commentary.


Vyecheslav Likachev, left, is a specialist on Ukrainian antisemitism for the Ukrainian Vaad. He has conducted many surveys that monitor anti-Jewish bigotry in the country.


Photo: the writer.



The issues of antisemitic content in various media cannot be divorced, Mr. Likachev observed, from the larger issue of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech as a basic human right is still a very shaky concept in both Russia and Ukraine, he said, and some very decent individuals believe that any struggle against antisemitic commentary in the media must be very skillfully managed so as not to jeopardize freedom of speech. Mr. Likachev also observed that Ukrainian culture and language, in common with Russian culture and language, often is emotional and intemperate. Therefore, notions and impulses that might be suppressed in other settings are expressed in Ukraine and Russia.


In response to a question, Mr. Likachev said that almost all Ukrainian antisemitism is “traditional,” rooted in Ukrainian nationalism. Leftwing antisemitism, which he acknowledged is common in the West, is not a factor in Ukraine. The most severe rightwing antisemites, i.e., neo-Nazis, Mr. Likachev stated, are more concerned about Africans, Asians, and people from the Caucasus Mountain area than about Jews.


The number of Arab students at Ukrainian universities is small, Mr. Likachev stated. The Middle East in general is not interesting to Ukrainians, Mr. Likachev continued, so Arabs are unlikely to persuade Ukrainians to join in anti-Israel activity.



77. The Kyiv Jewish Community is a secular organization operating under the auspices of Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich. The writer spoke with Anatoly Shengait, Executive Director (Исполнительный директор) of KJC, who emphasized that KJC is an umbrella organization, striving to bring all Jewish organizations in the city together under one roof for community-wide actions. The organizations with which KJC tries to work include all Jewish religious denominations, all five Jewish day schools, and religious and non-religious Jewish organizations, e.g., Jewish youth groups, veterans clubs, and B’nai Brith. Of course, Mr. Shengait commented, he cannot order anyone to do anything, but most groups participate in the community-wide holiday celebrations and other events that KJC organizes.


Anatoly Shengait has worked with Rabbi Bleich for many years. He currently directs the Kyiv Jewish Community, a secular organization operating under Rabbi Bleich’s auspices.


Photo: the writer


A major function of KJC over the years, said Mr. Shengait, has been the staging of large festivals in public halls for Chanukah and Purim. Jews from small towns in central and western Ukraine – such as Kaniv, Korosten, Ternopil, Bila Tserkva, and Zhmerynka – come into Kyiv by bus for these events. A complex entertainment schedule is devised, each group taking responsibility for specific components of the day. JDC and other organizations also are involved. Jewish university students provide considerable labor. The expenses of KJC events used to be covered by KJC, i.e., by funds raised by Rabbi Bleich; however, stated Mr. Shengait, Rabbi Bleich no longer is able to generate such support. The major donor behind KJC festivals now is Vadym Rabynovych, a controversial Ukrainian businessman.


A second direction in KJC programs is unified advocacy for Israel. Last year, said Mr. Shengait, more than 10,000 people attended at least part of a three-day Israel fair designed to present a positive image of Israel. Initiated by Nativ and also supported by the Jewish Agency, KJC was heavily involved in the organization and logistics of this event which attracted many Ukrainian non-Jews who were curious about Israel and Jews. Part of the fair was staged in a 200-meter long museum facility that had been designed to resemble an Israeli street; storefronts and booths showcased Israeli art and Israeli firms that do business in Israel. An Israel film festival was held; all films were subtitled in Ukrainian or Russian, and many showings were followed by discussions about the films. Israeli dance and music groups performed.[107] Lectures and panels were held on Israeli science and technology, the Israeli system of justice, and other topics. The event was so successful that it will be repeated, Mr. Shengait stated, and Nativ and other groups may expand it to other cities.[108]


In response to a question, Mr. Shengait said that the major financial backers of the Israel fair were local businesses with ties to Israel, the Embassy of Israel, Nativ, and a few local individuals. The office of the mayor paid for almost all advertising, which included time on television and banners or placards on city streets and the metro. Mr. Shengait estimated the value of municipal advertising at approximately $200,000. KJC was asked to reimburse the mayor’s office for $1,000. When asked the reason for the municipal largesse, Mr. Shengait replied that he had been asking himself the same question.


Another KJC activity, stated Mr. Shengait, is the Shavua Tov discussion group that convenes periodically at the Jewish Agency.[109] The group is composed of intellectuals who discuss specific ideas and concepts, such as Jewish identity, Jewish leadership, and lashon hara (לשון הרע, gossip). Mr. Shengait continued that KJC also is one of the principal forces behind, a new Ukraine-based Russian-language website focusing on local Jewish news, the Russian-speaking Jewish diaspora, and Israel.



78. The Jewish Fund of Ukraine and the Jewish Forum of Ukraine, both directed by Arkady Monastyrsky, share basement-level premises in Kyiv. The principal program of the former is operation of Kinor, a Jewish cultural center, in one large multi-purpose room and several smaller conference rooms. Kinor offers a number of activities to its more than 1,100 members, 40 percent of whom pay a modest membership fee. These activities include clubs and performances in various areas of Jewish culture (music, art, drama), a Jewish women’s club, and classes in Hebrew and Yiddish. It exhibits work of local Jewish artists and has published several books on Jewish subjects, Jewish sheet music, and audio cassettes of Jewish music. It coordinates Jewish cultural festivals and has organized traveling exhibits of Jewish culture. Kinor also has been active in Holocaust remembrance and in interfaith activities.


Elaborating on some of these programs, Mr. Monastyrsky said that the Jewish Fund recently had issued a number of compact discs on Jewish films, traditional Jewish songs, the Holocaust, Jewish heroes of World War II, partisan fighters in World War II, and Anna Frank.[110] Copies of the CD’s were distributed to many Jewish communities throughout Ukraine.


The Jewish Fund convenes groups of Holocaust survivors in several cities - including Kyiv, Kherson, and Bila Tserkva – monthly in local cafés and restaurants for “dialogues between generations” with [predominantly non-Jewish] high school and university students. The dialogues program, said Mr. Monastyrsky, is subsidized by the German government. The Fund also continues its Holocaust commemorations under the title of Six Million Hearts.


The Jewish Fund of Ukraine, directed by Arkady Monastyrsky, right, operates a Jewish cultural center in Kyiv and engages in other cultural activities and Holocaust-related programs throughout the country.



Photo: the writer.


[107] Mr. Shengait noted that some visitors and audiences were very well-informed about Israel, asking why certain Israeli groups were represented and others were not. In particular, complaints were received about the absence of Gesher, a renowned Israeli bilingual theater ensemble.

[108] Mr. Shengait also said that a group of Chabad men attempted to persuade Jewish male visitors to wrap tefillin, an event that was not on the official program. However, the Chabad team was permitted to remain and continue their activity.

[109] Shavua tov, טןב שבןע (a good week; refers to a blessing sung at the close of the Jewish Sabbath, wishing participants “a good week” until the next Shabbat.

[110] Anne Frank, adolescent author of a diary written while hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam during World War II, is known in Russian-speaking countries as Anna Frank.

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