This week the President of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, condemned Amnesty International’s report accusing Israel of “apartheid.” Jacobs wrote, “Amnesty’s report is wrong in both substance and tone. The report has the potential to feed antisemitism worldwide at a moment when it is already growing and to isolate Israel in the international community.”
Amnesty’s report is antisemitism. Fighting antisemitism is a priority for our Temple. Last week I was invited to be the Rabbi for International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Ukrainian Mission to the UN. I want to share my words.
“For Jews and Ukrainians, the Holocaust, the Shoa, isn’t history, it’s our story. It’s personal. It’s about our families. My grandfather, Aharon Vilfond was born in Stavist near Kyiv, thank God his family fled before the war. Had they not, I probably would not be here. My grandfather’s uncle, Rabbi Leyb Vilfand was the rabbi of the Central Synagogue in Uman when the Nazis arrived in 1941. Witnesses told my family that Rabbi Vilfond, was holding a Torah scroll when he and his family were shot dead on the steps of the synagogue. They were first to be murdered in Uman on that day in order to frighten the Jewish community to obey and march to a ravine at the edge of the town where they were all shot dead.
It’s says in the Book of Genesis “The blood of your brothers calls out to God.” We hear the voice of our brothers. Their voice calls out to us and says “Zachor – Remember!”
I remember. In the 1990’s I was a Rabbi in the city of Kiev leading a Reform Synagogue. On Log B’Omer, I was with members of my congregation in a park. There were about forty of us singing Jewish songs with guitars. The boys and men among us were wearing yarmulkes. Suddenly an old Ukrainian grandmother walks by, she was carrying heavy bags of beets and potatoes from the market. She puts the bags down and looks at us. We stop and look at her. She says “Are you Jews?” “Yes” we say. She asks “Is this a holiday?” “Yes,” we said. She then stared at us for a while and said, “My husband’s family hid Jews during the war. They were caught. They were all killed. Only my husband survived.” She stood and stared for a long time, then said “May you have a good holiday.” She then picked up her heavy bags and walked off.
Later, I asked myself what was this old woman was trying to say. I think she wanted to say “My family’s story and the story of your people are connected.” You can’t tell the story of the Ukrainian people without telling the story of the Jews. And you can’t tell the story of the Jewish people without telling the story of Ukraine.” We share memories. And we feel this bond even more keenly on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
We also feel a sense of debt and gratitude to the nearly 3,000 heroes among the Ukrainian people who risked their lives to save Jews during the war. They listened and responded to the voice of their souls “To love your neighbor as yourself,” and they said “Yes I am my brother’s keeper.” They are a model of righteousness among the nations.
Jews and Ukrainians know the horrors of war. Today the Jewish people stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people at this time of uncertainty. You are not alone. We are your brothers and sisters and we pray for hope and we pray for peace.”
It says in the Bible, “For the Sake of Zion I will not be silent.” In the fight against Antisemitism and Hate we must speak out.
Rabbi David Wilfond