Anne Molloy is following the political upheaval in Ukraine, during which at least two Jews have been attacked while a public commemoration for Holocaust victims was called off.
As chair of the Former Soviet Union Committee of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, the Pittsburgh resident is receiving emails from WUPJ officials on the ground there and monitoring reports of anti-Semitism.
The WUPJ is the international umbrella organization of the Reform, Liberal, Progressive and Reconstructionist movements in more than 45 countries, including Ukraine. Some 800 Jews are members of the Progressive congregation Atikva in the capital city of Kiev, according to JTA, but thousands more take part in 27 other Progressive communities in the country. There are approximately 360,000 Jews in Ukraine, according to the European Jewish Congress.
Neither Molloy nor the WUPJ think the Jews, as a community, are in any immediate danger. Nevertheless, precautionary measures are being taken.
“They [Progressive Jewish leaders] have taken extra measures in terms of security,” she told the Chronicle. “They’ve done a lot of training of their staff so they know what to do in case an emergency arises. On some days staff have had to work from home. It’s kind of a day-by-day situation.”
Citizens have taken to the streets of Kiev, for weeks now. Some demonstrators even occupied the Justice Ministry and other government buildings.
They’re protesting the government of President Victor Yanukovych, claiming it is corrupt. They’re angry that the government rejected a popular trade deal with the European Union in favor of staying in the Russian sphere of influence.
Molloy couldn’t say how many Jews are taking part in the protests, but she noted that Progressive Jews in Ukraine are generally pro-Western.
The situation has become more confusing with Thursday’s announcement that Yanukovych is taking an indefinite sick leave.
In a statement issued this week, WUPJ said it was “concerned” about the protests and urged the Yanukovych government to resolve differences peacefully.
“Escalating protests, and the government’s unwillingness to engage in peaceful and meaningful ways of addressing the concerns of the protesters, have led to violence and threats,” the statement said. “We call upon both government leaders and leaders of the opposition take all steps to end the violence and return to civil discourse.”
It continued: “We are especially concerned as the escalating violence has given license to those who would attack Jews. … We call upon the government to protect all people in the Ukraine and we extend our concern to all, especially members of our Progressive Jewish community and, indeed, the entire Jewish community.”
In January, two Jews were attacked, both in Kiev. In the first incident, four unidentified men assaulted an Israel-born Hebrew teacher, whom they followed from synagogue to his home, JTA reported. In the second, a Kollel student was stabbed outside the Podolski synagogue and was hospitalized.
According to Molloy, Kiev’s Jewish leaders suspended that city’s International Day of Remembrance for Holocaust victims last week because of the violence there. Remembrance programs did go on in other Ukrainian cities, though.
“In Kiev, the leadership felt it was too risky and wanted to keep people safe,” Molloy said.
Molloy has served on the WUPJ board for eight years, and has chaired the FSU Committee for about as long.
“I got involved because of our family’s work in the former Soviet Union,” she said, referring to the centers the Posner family has supported with the JDC and Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh throughout Russia and the other republics. The centers assist in rebuilding Jewish life there.
She said Progressive Judaism in the former Soviet Union is “definitely growing.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)