The chief rabbi of Ukraine has issued a warning to the Jews in his country: Be vigilant, stay away from the protests and avoid the center of Kiev.
Rabbi Yaacov Dov Bleich addressed the delicate situation of Ukraine’s 200,000-strong Jewish community in an interview Sunday night on Aaron Klein’s WABC radio show in New York City.
Bleich said he told the Jewish community to “stay away from points of danger, stay away from the center where demonstrations were taking place.”
“We have a very, very large community of young families with children who are living in Kiev,” he said. “There is no question about it: The Jewish community needs to stay vigil(ant) and see what is going to be.”
Bleich continued: “Jews are members of civil society in Ukraine. We are a minority. We have been living there peacefully throughout the last 22-years of Ukrainian independence. We want to continue. The community is developing. We want to feel safe. We want to feel protected. We don’t want to have to worry about attacks no matter where they are coming from or who is orchestrating them.”
Listen to the interview by clicking below:
Klein asked Bleich about reports of extremists among the ranks of the Ukrainian opposition.
The rabbi affirmed the majority of the protesters are “grassroots, regular everyday old people from Ukraine that were fed up with living in a corrupt society, and they came out to protest against it to try to make change and they were successful in making change.”
“That’s the majority,” he maintained. “They are not anti-Semites. They are not right-wing nationalist neo-fascists or Nazis the way the Russians are trying to paint them.”
Bleich said, however, there is an element among the opposition, including some within the nationalist Svoboda party, “who [have] among its rank-and-file members nationalists, some of them are neo-Nazis or neo-fascists, people who are not embarrassed to say they hate Jews.”
“They are a minority. They are there.”
Over the weekend there was a report in the Israeli Maariv newspaper that a Ukrainian rabbi, Moshe Reuven Azman, called on Kiev’s Jews to flee the country.
Bleich, however, told Klein that he spoke to Azman, that the comments were taken out of context and that there are no plans to evacuate Ukrainian Jews.
Bleich says Azman simply told the women and children of his congregation to avoid the city center or leave Kiev if necessary.
“It was not a question of evacuating the city or evacuating the Jews from Ukraine,” Bleich told Klein.
Following several anti-Semitic attacks last month and some verbalized threats in recent days, the Jewish community of Kiev took measures to step up security, hiring outside firms at a price of $1,000 per day, said Bleich.
Saturday, the Jewish Agency of Israel said it will help to increase security at Ukraine’s Jewish institutions.