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March 10, 2014 10:32 am

Jewish Voices From Crimea: ‘Living in Readiness’

avatar by Roman Mokrinsky / Tazpit News Agency

Defaced synagogue in Simferopol. Photo: Tazpit News Agency.

SIMFEROPOL, Crimea – Two weeks after the fall of the regime in the Ukraine, and as the reports of Russian military advancement in Crimea intensify, the situation in the region continues to remain unstable and flammable.

The interim government in the Ukraine has issued new laws, many of them with a nationalistic orientation, creating unrest in the Russian speaking regions of the country. Many of the ethnic Russians in the East fear the new regime and aspire to be annexed by Russia.

These citizens go to sleep every night not knowing in which country they will wake up the next morning. Russian President Vladimir Putin has effectively invaded Crimea under the pretense that he is doing so to protect ethnic Russians from Ukrainian nationalism.

The residents of Crimea don’t know what to expect from the government in Kiev, and these latest developments have also affected the Jewish community in the region.

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Tazpit News Agency interviewed two of the leaders of the Jewish community in Crimea:

Dina Liebman, director of the local Hillel house in Simferopol, told Tazpit of the general deterioration of their security. With that, she stressed that no Jewish organization has ceased to be active. “We have cancelled our larger plans due to the situation, but we have continued on with our smaller programs, like volunteering with children in dorms and working with the elderly,” said Liebman. “I haven’t sensed a change in the local population’s attitude towards us. I feel that everyone is prepared to support each other and extend help if needed, regardless of ethnicity.”

However, Anatoly Ganadin, Chairman of the Jewish communal organization in Crimea, has recently experienced anti-Semitism in Simferopol. On February 28″Ž, the day after the fall of Yanukovych’s rule, Ganadin went to the ‘Ner Tamid’ synagogue and found it defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti; swastikas and ‘Death to the Jews’ slogans were sprayed across the facade.

“This is the first such incident in the past twenty years. To vandalize the synagogue you have to scale a seven foot wall. We leave our windows open so they won’t be shattered, and we have asked our members not to come to religious affairs out of fear for their safety,” Ganadin said.

Is there a threat of rising anti-Semitism?

Liebman disagrees. “Unfortunately, anti-Semitism has always been a part of life here,” Liebman explains. “It’s not widespread and is not a political line of any party. We are not fearful of possible upcoming pogroms. Of course, any expression of anti-Semitism is unpleasant and serious. It’s true Simferopol has not experienced anti-Semitic graffiti in the past twenty years, but other cities have. I think such expressions of anti-Semitic and nationalistic sentiments are not a result of the latest developments. It’s simply a few individuals who have decided to express themselves as the country is in a stormy state,” said Liebman.

As the Ukraine has split into pro-Russian and anti-Russian camps, the Jewish community remains unified. “I am sure there is not fissure within the Jewish community on this issue,” says Liebman. “No head of community has voiced his opinion on the subject and has tried to influence his community in any way. We have asked our members to stay calm and to stay away from provocations.”

The State of Israel and Jewish organizations from around the world have sent support to the Jewish community in Crimea. “Israeli representatives in the Ukraine are offering anyone eligible to immigrate to Israel to do so in a quickened process. Our community has received funds to install a new security system and to hire armed security personnel. We now have guards. The parliament is making an effort to maintain public order. Volunteers patrol the city,” Ganadin told Tazpit.

Which way will Crimea go and how will its Jews be affected? Ganadin believes that Crimea is de-facto Russian, and will officially be so in a week’s time. All that is left is to hope the Jews of Crimea will fare well during the impending storm.

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