in person

Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman:

06.06.2014 | By Ihor Levenstein

KW spoke with the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine Moshe Azman about the state of affairs in the Jewish community, its extent of integration into political life of Ukraine and how to survive the current situation

KW: Today, we are constantly in condition of anxiety and tension. A wave of negative information is being poured on us. How can one preserve peace of mind in this situation?

M.A.: Firstly, you have to believe. You have to believe that everything that God does is for the good, even some negative and difficult things. We go through everything, and everything in this world is a challenge. To fix the world, one needs to begin from fixing oneself. If one were to give practical advice, in Israel, for instance, people live in a state of war all the time. Even when there is peace, there are millions of people around wanting to raze Israel to the ground. At the same time, people live their ordinary lives, do business and yes, they do carry automatic guns at times, but still rejoice at life. That is why you have to adjust to any situation. I am not saying here why the situation appeared in the first place, but the lessons of history must be learned in order to fix difficult situations.

KW: You mentioned Israel. This country is often given as example to Ukraine, as a country permanently living in hostile environment. What Israeli experience should Ukraine borrow?

M.A.: I agree with those Ukrainian politicians who not that Israelis, who live in a state of war and constant threats, do not complain and can face the challenges. I would like to emphasize that I do not call for accept the situation. Every person has their own challenges in this world and every country has challenges of its own. I would like to outline one of the key moment the problem of justice. I spoke about this several years ago on television. When I was asked about the biggest problem of Ukraine, I replied corrupt court system. Everybody is aware of that, but they accept it as a normal phenomenon. There is a commandment in Torah, in the Seven Laws of Noah, that requires maintain courts to provide legal recourse. That is why the society cannot exist without the fair trial. When justice is done for bribes, the one who has more money is justified. This is an awful phenomenon and this is what the people must overcome.

KW: In connection with the situation in Ukraine, Russian media insistently rise the issue of anti-Semitism. What is the situation in reality?

M.A.: There is no anti-Semitism in Ukraine, not more than there was before and more than there is in other countries. According to statistics, there are a lot more cases of violence for anti-Semitism reasons in European countries and in Russia than in Ukraine. In recent months, Ive been receiving calls from different countries and people asked me: whats going on there, the Fascists and Banderivtsy are on the streets slaughtering people? I tell them and I live in the center of Kyiv and see no such thing. But when you watch Russian television, I dont know who to believe my own eyes or what I see on Russian television. I would like to say again do not speculate on the issue of Jews. Jews as citizens of Ukraine do what they think they should do. I believe that the Jewish community should stand outside politics. However, every member of the community has the right to show their civil position any way they want. There are forces that are trying to pull the Jewish community into politics but I am against it.

KW: Jewish leaders of Russia supported actions of the Kremlin against Ukraine. How did it affect the relations between Jewish leaders of Ukraine and Russia?

M.A.: Unfortunately, the problem between our countries affected the relations between the Jewish leaders. This is not only about being loyal to your own government. The difference is that here, in Ukraine, I can openly speak about something that Jewish leaders of Russia cannot. Here, any person can speak their mind: they can be in favor of the government, can criticize the government and nothing will be done to him. In Russia, it is different. I went through this in the past: I was born in Russia, lived in the Soviet Union. I know what Leningrads KGB is, because I was taken there on several occasions for reviving Jewish traditions. I unofficially spoke to the Jewish leaders of Russia offering that they dont discuss us and we dont discuss them. Let everybody mind their own business. If you believe that Fascism must be fought against, then we will do it here and you do it in your own country. If you go to Google, you will find 53 Fascist organizations in Russia, which means that you have a lot of work to do. Meanwhile, here, in Ukraine, even the nationalist parties that we fought against in the past, changed their rhetoric today and in difficult times offered us to protect Jewish buildings.

KW: So these are proven facts that the Right Sector and other organizations guarded synagogues in different Ukrainian cities?

M.A.: We have video records from the time of Maidan and our guards still have the radio that was provided for communication with Maidans Self-Defense in case of provocations. We were offered protection and help in Odesa, Zaporizhzhya and other cities and we had the possibility to see for ourselves that the Right Sector is not as scary as pictured. We have had our arguments with the nationalists, when they went over border. But I would like to point that one should not mix the notions of nationalist and Nazi. Nationalist is the person who love their people and Nazi is a person who hates other peoples. I am also a nationalist in the good sense of the word. Unfortunately, sometimes nationalists become Nazis. To love ones own people does not mean to insult and kill others.

KW: What can you say about such phenomenon as the Jewish Hundred of Maidan and about young Israelis coming to Ukraine after the service on Israel Defense Forces to protect Ukrainian democracy?

M.A.: This is a fact. The Jewish Hundred of Maidan was organized by a member of our community Nathan Khazin. He is a Kyivs religious Jew, who comes to pray to our synagogue. He did not act by instruction of the community, but followed his civil duty. I did not interfere with his business, but I know that there are many Jews who are ready to help Ukraine one way or the other at his difficult historical moment. As for the Israelis, I dont know. There are actually so many rumors and tales in mass media.

KW: What is your position or maybe there is something in Torah about whether Jews should interfere in such situations?

M.A.: Let me explain. We created our own self-defense to protect our facilities. It is led by the same Nathan Khazin. We need self-defense not become the level of anti-Semitism grew higher, but in order to avoid provocations. We see what is being done and said. And we created self-defense, which interacts with the Ukrainian self-defense. Many members of our community took courses from specialists who came from Israel, including on the basics of first medical aid. We purchased medical equipment and re-equipped one large vehicle for the rescue purposes. So, you could say that we are preparing for the extraordinary situation, but doing it peacefully.

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