New York area Jews are stepping up to provide aid for the people of Ukraine who are suffering under almost two weeks of Russian military assault. People who know the history of the area will understand why many people may see this as an ironic twist of historical fate.
(Photographed above is Mila Kunis a Jewish American born in Ukraine with her husband Ashton Kutcher shown raising money for Ukrainians. The couple pledged $3 million of their own money.)
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According to the New York Times, New York is home to 300,000 Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and the largest single group of them are from Ukraine. The times also reports that that the single largest group of them comes from Ukraine. So it is no wonder that such large sums of money are being raised there.
One of these Ukrainians is Councilwoman Inna Vernikov, a Republican who was born in Ukraine, represents Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach and parts of Midwood and Sheepshead Bay. She told the paper, “There are a lot of mixed feelings about Ukraine in the Jewish community because of antisemitism in its history. And right now it doesn’t matter because Russia is an aggressor that is killing innocent men, women and children. We can acknowledge our complicated feelings about what happened in the past, but right now we have to do what is right.”
What did the councilwoman mean by this? Well, during World War II the Ukrainians were known as collaborators with the German army occupying their country. Not only that, but Ukrainians were also among those who aided in the murder of countless Jews in the Holocaust. Ukrainians even volunteered to serve in the infamous German military unit the S.S. and many served as guards at concentration camps.
Ukrine is where Babi Yar is located – the site where tens of thousands of Jews were gunned down, their bodies left in a mass grave. Local Ukrainians notoriously assisted the S.S. when it rounded up the Jewish victims.
Rabbi Labish Becker, the executive director of Agudath Israel of America, told the New York Times, “Everyone is sort of pinching themselves. We just sit there and look at each other like: ‘Wow this is amazing. It is like what J.F.K. said when he was in Berlin.’ We feel like, ‘We are all Ukrainians.’” His organization says that it has already raised $2 million for Ukraine.