Jewish Observer
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13/16
November 2001
5762 Kheshvan

PRESIDENT TURNS HIS FACE TOWARDS COMMUNITY
EDUARD DOX
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In interview with the correspondent of "Jewish Observer" Chief Rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine Yaakov Dov Bleich informed that he had a meeting with the President of Ukraine on October 24. At this meeting they discussed compensation issues to the families of perished passengers of the plane hit by Ukrainian missile. According to Yaakov Dov Bleich, Leonid Kushma said that Ukraine is responsible for the shot-down plane and the compensation problem would be resolved in the nearest future. Rabbi Bleich underlined that Ukrainian-Israeli relations are strong enough and are not vulnerable to a crisis because of the accidental tragedy.

Besides the situation with the plane, the issues related with the restitution of community's buildings and cemeteries preservation were discussed at the meeting.

In interview to the TV "1+1" channel, the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine said that it is time now to take clear-cut and open steps towards compensation payments because at the present moment this problem is more in the area of human rather than political relations.

It is worthy to note that the Russian "Commersant" newspaper assumes, with reference to the sources in Verkhovna Rada, that it was Yaakov Dov Bleich who influenced on the President of Ukraine and induced him to publicly pronounce his apologies via TV for the shot plane.

A new meeting between Rabbi Bleich and the President of Ukraine was held on November 8. It was on the results of the Ukrainian delegation's visit to the USA. The prospects for canceling the Jackson-Venika amendment and steps to be taken by the Ukrainian government in this direction were discussed.

It was agreed that the Jewish community would prepare a letter to Leonid Kuchma, the copy of which would be attached to the address of the head of the Ukrainian State to the American Congress.

The letter signed by leaders of the Jewish Confederation gives assessment of ten-year efforts for the revival of the Jewish community in Ukraine.

The letter says that among our achievements the key one is that presently over 20, 000 children attend about 30 Jewish Sunday schools in Ukraine. Most of these schools are partially funded from budget.

Forty buildings that once had been the property of the Jewish community were restituted. They are either synagogues or Jewish community centers now.

Over five hundred Jewish organizations are actively functioning in Ukraine, in all areas of social, cultural and religious life. About 10 All-Ukrainian Jewish organizations coordinate Jewish activities all over the country.

40 Jewish newspapers are regularly printed. There are 5 TV programs, two of which are national.

The "Khesed" program with its affiliates all over Ukraine is helping more than 100 thousand elderly people. It became possible owing to the help of the American Distribution Committee ("Joint") and the conference for material claims to Germany ("Claims Conference").

A particular role belongs to the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine which occupies the leading positions in the community and represents Ukrainian Jews in the European Jewish Congress, European Council of Jewish communities, World Jewish Congress, as well as in other international organizations.

The first priority measures to be agreed and worked out by the Ukrainian government are:

1) Law on religion that will envisage the restitution of community's property, including former synagogues, schools and other buildings, to the former legal owners for use and possession.

2) Instruction forbidding privatization of community's property and cemeteries and canceling the previous illegal privatization of all above-mentioned property which was done for last ten years pursuant to the laws and documents of the non-existing USSR and was alien to the interstate agreements of Ukraine.

3) Law on cemeteries that acknowledges the community's property to the cemeteries destroyed during the Soviet times and WWII (including build-up cemeteries and cemeteries with no monuments left), mass burial places of Holocaust victims, forbidding their privatization and preserving from further destruction. The Jewish Confederation is ready to participate in coordinating the work of the joint American-Ukrainian commission for preservation of cultural heritage established pursuant to the American-Ukrainian agreement signed on March 4, 1994. The Jewish Confederation suggests that the Commission is given status as part of the Government Program of Ukraine for preservation of cultural heritage.

Special attention is paid to the struggle against anti-Semitism. As it is said in the letter, history teaches us that this struggle is continuous as the remnants of totalitarism are alive and we should be vigilant in identifying the ways of this struggle, and take immediate and all possible measures against anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

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