«Jewish Observer»
May 2002
5762 Sivan

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Probably, none of the articles in "JO" has ever caused such a storm of responses as the material by the "American" Alexander Burakovsky "Why Jews of Ukraine keep silence". Author's American passport provoked a rather firm rebuke to a notorious "why". We are to speak today of not "why", but "what" Jews of Ukraine are silent about. They keep silence, first of all, about the problems the state has nothing (God bless) to do with, i.e. about an inner crisis of their own community which can be called "community" rather conventionally. No, our meetings are well organized and microphone speeches are well grounded. They are grounded well enough not to be put to question.

We do not lie, no, we simply do not tell the whole truth. It is so small, this truth, and so local. We are the sixth is size community in the world, so there is no big need to bother listeners with all this stuff.

This is not terror, not a struggle against anti-Semitism - global themes, "insured" by national consensus. We (the community) are afraid to look at ourselves from outside, not at a proud profile of thousands of heads hearing another speaker at another meeting, but at our, so to say, own generalized portrait. It depicts, primarily, elderly, socially unprotected people. It is they, not a notorious middle class, who constitute the backbone of Ukrainian community. The point lies not in the absence of a middle class. Despite everything, it begins to gain force over the recent years, which particularly concerns Jews with their traditionally high level of education and social mobility. Yes, it's time to admit we have more and more people who earn 200 - 300 - 500 American dollars a month. But it is simply impossible to change an almost 15-year old defective community motivation which suits practically all "participants of the concession". It suits foreign donors reveling in their own (exceptional on our background) nobleness. It suits our local bosses - Jewish leaders who need an obedient fold. It also suit recipients themselves who "come, see and receive". Everybody has perfectly mastered the rules of an interesting game as well as his own thoroughly directed and eternal role. Life of secular chiefs, though, is easer - they have to deal with (only!) their own conscience. Whereas religious masters indeed have something to worry about. When people pay for prayers or (let's not shamefully shield our eyes) feed their priests, then what is the use of such prayers? Does God need them? Look into provincial newspapers, "Prayer is followed by a Torah lesson and breakfast" (this is a most correct form). Prayer schedule in various synagogues differs a little... You may be in due time for several feasts, pardon me, breakfasts. Can He not see this? Then He is not God. But if He sees and still is God what is ahead of those being cunning before him? A necessary at "work" kipa gets dusty on a bedside table. People are driven to divine services. Yes, this occurs not everywhere, not always, but often, very often. What can be more blasphemous (and sillier) than leading Him into delusion? Shall we go silent?

Have there been many Jewish weddings over recent years, ordinary, without a kupa, weddings between "passport" Jews? Don't most of our leaders keep silence about that?

Isn't it an evidence of their (and our) defeat, isn't it disappearance of our community? A religious answer to this problem is known and has repeatedly been pronounced - whatever may happen, God will preserve 600 thousand men observing Torah and commandments, that's why it's useless to intimidate us with assimilation. Well, nobody is going to resort to threats. What then, pardon me, is your, pastors, function if the situation goes out of control and we have to hope only to God? Secular perplexity is also clear - love is not to be forbidden and, consequently... if only a man be good. In effect, we speak not about bans, but about creating a situation where bans are unnecessary. The task of tens of Jewish kindergartens and schools is to let children and grandchildren of these kids remain Jews. It is, of course, possible to keep silence also about that because formally everything functions - Hebrew, traditions, history - a complete gentleman's set.

It is also possible to keep silence about Jewish "Potyomkin villages" - small communities or, to put it simpler, former localities in which Jews are scarce in number. I realize I've evoked a just anger of tens of thousands of people for whom any Jewish activity supported by a foreign or home center is the only way to national self-identification. I mean another thing. Creation of communities (in the first turn, religious ones) in small towns frequently resembled "registration" of land plots in the times of "Gold rush" - the fist to come would become a happy owner. Hasids, "Lithuanians", Habad, reformists - everybody enjoyed his "wedding night right" without a community-"bride's" consent. Actually, formal meetings were held, Rabbis and Chairmen were elected. But in the majority of cases the choice had been made prior to be the meetings.

There is also another, particularly acute for small communities problem - dependence on the notorious "cover" structures. Haven't "cover" leaders themselves created a phenomenon of double or even triple morals when chairmen of small communities participate at times in conventions of two main Jewish organizations praising, in turn, their leaders in the hope to get something from a lord's table?

It is noteworthy that none of big, small and very small leaders cry about that. What for? Everybody has his own role and, most importantly, everybody has his job. They get together, indulge into another slobbering over their being highly contended today to be together whereas twenty years earlier they could not even have dreamt about it, and so on and so forth. It is "over there" that a community keeps an influence on them. Here Jewishness has long become a profession frequently well-paid, and as any profession it has acquired a number of definite methods and cliches. But if emigration and assimilation continue at a current speed, there will soon be nobody to work with. We should precipitate, and everybody is aware of that. The described picture seems cynical. Though this is only a reverse side of a medal to be awarded to a participant of the battle "For Jewish Renaissance", the side everybody knows about but prefers to neglect.

Where is our middle class - active mature people who do not need community's material advantages and ready to donate 200 - 300, sometimes 1000 dollars a year for the benefit of concrete Jews IN NEED, and not to hyperprojects: another community center, museum etc. Money is always available for such large-scale undertakings. Many powerful figures wish to see their names on plaques in a synagogue, center or museum. God bless them for their help. It is great we see more and more such people in recent years - a recovery process is under way, though slowly.

A community's main hope should be a middle class, not a small group of millionaires, on the one hand, and an army of the poor, on the other. I agree accounts will show that "small" sponsors' money will not meet ( presently) all community's needs. But this is the only way to the future. We cannot listlessly watch an entire mainland of Jewish civilization - the community of Ukraine - to die out or, rather, degenerate. Yes, there are objective factors, an entire package of inner and outside circumstances... But there also are forces able to solve problems which can become more acute in the days to come.

That's we should cry about, for ,otherwise, constructing a national community house we may find ourselves in a wooden barrack with a constantly leaking roof desperately awaiting its roof - maker.


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