Written by By RANDY FREEMAN AND SUE RUSKIN-MAYHER
Written by By RANDY FREEMAN AND SUE RUSKIN-MAYHERMarch 7, 2022 Published online by Tapinto Somers
Does good always win over evil? We find ourselves asking that question as we watch the desperate situation evolve in Ukraine. Rabbi David Wilfond, senior rabbi at Temple Shaaray Tefila, Bedford, believes that it does. After two fulltime years as a rabbi in the Ukraine, and six additional part-time years, during which time he came to know both the country and its people well, Wilfond spoke about hope and the role it plays in the lives of the Ukrainian people during this difficult time.Wilfond’s ancestry is Ukrainian. He has family and friends there with whom he has been in touch throughout the crisis. He talks about the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the Ukrainian choice to become a democracy. The relationship between the emerging democracy and Russia has always been contentious. There was tension before the invasion. Since February 2014, the conflict was largely focused on the status of Crimea and parts of the Donbas, which was internationally recognized as part of Ukraine. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 escalated hostilities, and the war in Donbas involved actual naval attacks and cyberwarfare. Although, they are a “different people,” Wilfond said, the Soviet Union had stamped out both language and culture in Ukraine. Russian became the most used language. In the 1950s Jews were separated out from ordinary Ukrainians. Passports had a fifth column that separated people out as either Russian, Ukrainian, or Jewish. But today, aside from the Russian separatists, all the people consider themselves Ukrainian, speak the Ukrainian language, and consider the Jewish Ukrainians as full members of society. Much of the rabbi’s knowledge is about the Jewish community of Ukraine, but the communities have a long history together and are intertwined. In fact, there is so much intermarriage with Jews that almost every Ukrainian family has a Jewish member. He told an interesting story that exemplifies the absolute bravery of the Ukrainian people who have a long history of being attacked and conquered. He talked about the Nazis invading Ukraine in 1941. During the Nazi occupation over a million Jewish people were targeted as Jews and killed and three to four million non-Jewish Ukrainians were killed. Yet, many Ukrainian farmers and others hid Jewish people at considerable risk to themselves and their families. Wilfond recently gave a talk via Zoom about the Ukrainian situation and showed a Vimeo of Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny from Kyiv. Dukhovny said that he was holding services in the basement bomb shelter. As he spoke about how dire the situation is in Ukraine, he stopped speaking, tears filled his eyes, and he lost his voice. “This is very emotional for me,” he said. “I just want the whole world to know what is happening to Ukrainians.” Concerned that Vladimir Putin represents “a bully with his finger on the button,” Wilfond hopes for increased U.S. involvement in the conflict, asking, “Do we allow a bully to take over?” To combat this “unprovoked attack to acquire land and power” he would like to see NATO declare a no-fly zone and provide resources for the Ukrainian people to continue fighting. He said that because Ukraine had been asked to give up its nuclear weapons in 1994, Russia would not have been emboldened to invade. It gave up its weapons as part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at that time. He also wishes for more global involvement saying, “We are one family. You hurt one/you hurt all.” The rabbi said he’s concerned that Putin will not stop with Ukraine, and would like for the world stop him now, before too many Ukrainians are killed. For those wanted to show support for Ukraine, Wilfond made several suggestions.