Volodymyr Zelensky’s Jewishness

March 3 2022

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was born in the Soviet Union, where “Jews were perceived as the eternal outsiders, possible fifth columnists, the ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ of Stalin’s imagination,” as Gal Beckerman writes. Beckerman traces Zelensky’s unlikely path to the top leadership role in Ukraine, and what it reveals about Ukrainian-Jewish life.

When asked about what his . . . Jewishness has meant to him, Zelensky has been blasé. In an interview in 2020, he said he came from “an ordinary Soviet Jewish family,” adding that “most Jewish families in the Soviet Union were not religious.” What this hides, though, is the reality that Jewish identity didn’t exist in the Soviet Union, because it couldn’t. To be a Jew from the time of Stalin onward was to have a stamp in your internal passport that marked you as such (just as a Ukrainian or Latvian national identity was also indicated). There was very little opportunity for Jewish community, religious practice, or even bare-bones cultural expression.

Until the late 1980s, gathering for something as innocuous as a Passover seder was practically a subversive act, and teaching Hebrew was simply not allowed.

By the time Zelensky came of age, three or four generations of Soviet Jews had experienced their Jewish identity as a hollow thing, nothing but a black mark on a passport and a sense of peoplehood born of exclusion and a second-class status. . . . When the Soviet Union began buckling to pressure to let Jews emigrate in the 1970s, many took the opportunity to do so. . . . By the early 1990s, just after the Soviet collapse, the permitted trickle became a deluge, and about 1.5 million headed to the United States and Israel.

Zelensky and his family were part of the few hundred thousand Jews who stayed, content to assimilate in a post-Soviet world, in which Zelensky found success, first as an actor and then as a politician. . . . In the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro, not far from where Zelensky grew up, there are now ten synagogues and a gargantuan community center called Menorah, opened in 2012, that reportedly serves 40,000 people a day—even though there are only 60,000 Jews in Dnipro. By 2019, a Pew Research Center poll found Ukraine the most accepting of Jews among all Central and East European countries.

Read more at Atlantic

More about: Jewish World, Volodomyr Zelensky, War in Ukraine


Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria