Jewish leaders rally behind Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy – San Bernardino Sun

Rabbi David Wolpe, of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, said the world was looking for a hero. And he’s emerged, stunningly, in the unlikeliest of places — as the entire planet looks on.

In recent weeks, Wolpe and other Jewish leaders contend, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has provided that hero. And now, they only pray he can endure amid a brutal international crisis.

“For Jews, to see a Jewish president as not only president of Ukraine but as a symbol of courage and defiance against a tyrant, especially against the tyrant who in many ways represents the Soviet tyranny — which Jews also suffered from — it’s astonishing and remarkable,” Wolpe said.

Jewish leaders in Southern California and beyond have rallied around Zelenskyy, lauding the former TV actor and comedian for his strength and resilience amid the relentless Russian assault.

This wasn’t always the case. Just two months ago, Zelenskyy was tagged with a humbling 31% approval rating from Ukrainians, with many questioning whether their neophyte leader was capable of handling a serious crisis.

But as Russia launched its unprecedented attack by land, air and sea — the largest such attack in Europe since World War II — Zelenskyy has been hailed by some in the past two weeks as a stalwart wartime leader who has united his once politically fractured country. Some even draw parallels to Winston Churchill.

Zelenskyy’s approval rating, meanwhile, has skyrocketed to over 90% among his citizens.

As he delivered a speech to the European Parliament on his nation’s efforts to fend off the invasion last week, Zelenskyy inspired a standing ovation. When he told the European Parliament “we’re fighting just for our land and for our freedom,” the translator struggled not to cry.

His persona has morphed amid his nation’s battering. Once dapper in suit and tie, in his livecast to Europeans, he was unshaven and a big gaunt, clad in a military drab-style T-shirt, a Ukrainian flag hanging by his side.

“Our people are very much motivated, very much so, we are fighting for our rights, for our freedoms, for our life,” said Zelenskyy. “And now we are fighting for survival, and this is the highest of our motivation.”

Zelenskyy’s efforts have resonated particularly with his fellow Jews.

“He is definitely a hero,” said Dina Gotar, a Jew from the former Soviet Uinon who came to the U.S. as a refugee when she was 13 years old. She now lives in Encino.

“He brought the country together and brought the people together,” Gotar said. “They have great pride. The people of Ukraine are proud to have such a strong leader.”

Jewish clerics have focused on Zelenskyy during their recent services. Social media has been peppered with praise for him. Myriad fund-raising campaigns to buoy the Ukrainians have been launched as well.

Zelenskyy himself has reached out specifically to his Jewish peers around the world.

When Russian forces bombed near Babyn Yar, the site near Kyiv where thousands of Jews were executed by Nazis during World War II, Zelenskyy appealed to the world’s Jewish diaspora.

“What is the point of saying “Never again, for 80 years, in the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babyn Yar? At least five were killed. History (is) repeating (itself).”

Rabbi Wolpe — an admired figure among Jews who previously taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, Hunter College, and UCLA — said Jews can be a tough sell, not always eager to engage in political hero worship.

The Jewish community can be slow to trust politicians and authority figures -because “we’ve been betrayed so many times by all sorts of authority figures, including the clergy, including the judiciary, including everyone,” he said.

But Zelenskyy has earned their trust — and their pride. “This man is a hero and we’re proud of him,” he said.

Zelenskyy himself took a beating from his people for not acting on political reforms swiftly enough and for what some saw as a contradictory relationship with the Russians. But now, in the worst of times, he stayed to face them head on. And he says he isn’t going anywhere.

When offered a rescue, he delivered his iconic line, responding that he needed ammunition, “not a ride.”

Zelenskyy grew up in the Russian-speaking city of Kryvyi Rih in southeast Ukraine. His grandfather served in World War II and several of his relatives died in the Holocaust.

When the Soviet Union collapsed and many of his relatives immigrated to the U.S. and Israel, his parents decided to stay in Ukraine. After earning a law degree at Kyiv National Economic University, once a mediocre student became an actor and a comedian before running for the presidency and unexpectedly winning the election.

One of Zelenskyy’s most famous roles during his acting career featured a school teacher who grew weary of political corruption who unexpectedly became president of Ukraine.

In his 2020 interview to the Times of Israel, Zelenskyy said he grew up in “an ordinary Soviet Jewish” family, which was not religious because religion didn’t exist in the Soviet Union.

Still, studies show that Ukraine is one of the most welcoming European countries for Jews.

A 2019 Pew Research Center poll reported that 5% of Ukrainians were unwilling to accept Jewish people. That number was 18% in Poland, 19% of Czechs and 22% in Romania.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *