The war raging in Ukraine today has plunged that country’s Jews into the most acute crisis any major Jewish community has faced in decades.
We, the world Jewish community, therefore face the greatest test of a generation to demonstrate as a people the solidarity and care for our brothers and sisters facing such danger as previous generations have shown in similar situations. .
Ukraine is home to at least 200,000 Jews and people of Jewish descent, comprising one of the largest Jewish communities in the world outside of Israel and the United States. This community, along with all other Ukrainian citizens, now faces the most dire circumstances imaginable, from indiscriminate aerial and artillery bombardments to food shortages, loss of property and possessions and exposure to the freezing cold of Eastern European winter.
If there ever was a time when world Jewry, in Israel and in the Diaspora, must take responsibility for its brothers, then that time has come.
I believe the initial response shown by the government of Israel and world Jewry represents the opening of a new chapter of Jewish solidarity, something that is particularly needed and welcome in Israel.
In the past and even today, the default attitude of many Israelis, including opinion makers and senior government officials, to the concerns of Diaspora Jews has often been to simply tell them to make aliyah. . Even in the early 2000s, when Jewish leaders were reviving Jewish life in the former Soviet Union, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon chastised them for rebuilding Jewish life in those lands, saying it was blocking the aliyah.
Today, however, the situation in Israel is changing.
The State of Israel moved quickly to help Ukrainian Jewry in several ways. We approved the transfer of NIS 15 million (approximately $4.5 million) to two major Jewish organizations on the ground to purchase food, medicine and other basic necessities. The money is also being used to provide physical security for the country’s Jewish communities, a crucial necessity in these unstable times, and to help transport those seeking to reach borders.
In addition to this support, The Jewish Agency and Nativ have worked under incredibly difficult circumstances to assist Jews in Ukraine who have requested aliyah during this time to move this process forward.
And of course, the Israeli Foreign Ministry has worked tirelessly to extract thousands of Israelis from the country, as is the responsibility of any sovereign country to its citizens.
At the same time, world Jewry has mobilized with all its might to care for our Jewish brothers and sisters facing the terrible and perilous realities of modern warfare. Whether it is the incredible work of the Jewish Federations of North America, Keren Hayesod, JDC, Chabad and many other groups, Jews around the world have come together at this time in solidarity with their brothers in Ukraine.
What we are witnessing in Israel in particular is the beginning of the emergence of a real sense of Jewish solidarity, in which the Jewish state seeks to help all Jews, wherever and where they are at the time of their distress.
If Ukrainian Jews or any other Jewish community needs Israel as a place of refuge, we will of course welcome them with open arms. But we in Israel must also be ready and willing to help Jews even if they do not wish to settle in this country. Our assistance to the Ukrainian Jewish community is a crucial next step in consolidating Israeli solidarity with Diaspora Jews. And the provision of this aid demonstrates the will of the Israeli government to look after the well-being of the Jewish people in the world, and our desire to take the lead on this front as well.
The decision to extend this assistance received wide and positive coverage in the Israeli media and helped demonstrate to the Israeli general public what the Jewish people really mean. Israelis now see in real time what it means to be a people and what caring for Jews abroad really looks like.
For me, the Jewish people, the idea that we are indeed one people despite our scattering around the globe, is an essential concept for the global Jewish people today.
If Israel and its citizens cannot understand how important its relationship with Diaspora Jewry is, the Jewish state risks alienating much of the Jewish people, a trend that has already begun among some demographic groups.
Likewise, global Jewry must also be careful not to lose its sense of belonging to the Jewish state, a key anchor of Jewish identity, culture and even security for global Jewry. .
The Jewish nation is small, and always has been throughout history, often with few reliable friends they could count on and trust. This is why Jewish solidarity and the Jewish people are so important. Who can we ultimately rely on to support and rescue us if not ourselves?
If the ties that bind us weaken too much, maybe in the end we won’t be there for each other in times of need. It would be one of the most calamitous tragedies in our history.
This is why the relationship between Jews in Israel and world Jewry is a strategic asset for both halves of the Jewish people today, and why the current Israeli government, including my ministry, is working hard to ensure that we are doing as much as possible to strengthen these ties, including by advancing the concept of the Jewish people.
In my opinion, this mission is one of the most important challenges facing the Jewish state today. But I also believe that there has been a shift in Israel over the past 20 years and a growing recognition of the importance of the global Jewish people.
The work we have done in Israel for our fellow Jews in Ukraine over the past week is certainly proof of this and shows an evolution within Israeli society that is now sparking a better understanding of the value of mutual accountability between Israel and the Diaspora.
However, there is still much work to be done, among both halves of the Jewish people, to ensure that this principle is advanced and supported.
The concept of the Jewish people is crucial to the vitality, integrity and security of the global Jewish people. The continued cultivation and preservation of this value must be the work of all of us in the years to come.