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The Jewish Report Editorial

Endings and beginnings

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Leaving your family home with a small bag with the bare essentials and battling for days to reach a border to flee your country of birth, the country you love, is heartbreaking.

Being killed or wounded because you were just part of the civilian cannon fodder in Russia’s war against Ukraine is devastating.

Watching your ancestral home being gutted by Russian weaponry is horrifying.

Fleeing from basement to street shelter to avoid the bombs in your hometown seems crazy.

These are the life-and-death choices and experiences that Ukrainians have been facing since the Russian invasion on Thursday, 24 February.

Add a family to that and you add anguish to the decisions that have to be made. It’s one thing making such a decision for yourself, but you cannot play with the lives of your loved ones and children.

But then, families have been broken as some have left and others have stayed behind to fight or simply refuse to leave their homes and run. Men who may be able to fight are being prevented from leaving Ukraine with their families.

There is such shock and disbelief that their neighbours, the Russians, are doing this to them. Why would anyone in this day and age be committing such atrocities to their fellow man?

The catastrophic human stories are too numerous to tell, although the SA Jewish Report is trying to bring you as many that you can relate to as possible to give you a real sense of what’s happening in this war – and to our people.

At the beginning of the war, there were more than 200 000 Ukrainian Jews, which is almost four times as many as there are in South Africa.

It’s hard for most of us to truly understand what these people – Jews like us – are experiencing. We have never had to flee our homes – at least not those of us who were born here.

So, the idea of this happening is almost too much for us. The people most able to absorb it are our Holocaust survivors.

What’s happened so far is obviously nowhere near as horrific as World War II, but this kind of treatment of humans is alien to us. However, in our communal ancestral memory, it’s not.

So, when an Israeli minister Nachman Shai recognises how important it is for Israel to welcome Jews from Ukraine, it’s a huge relief. In fact, he made it clear that they wouldn’t turn away people who aren’t Jewish, because of our history.

So, it looks like a huge Eastern Europe aliya has begun.

Probably, for me, the most astonishing line in our lead story this week is: “This is the time that the reason for a Jewish state has become crystal clear.” When I read that, I got goosebumps.

What would have happened to Jews coming from Ukraine and Eastern Europe if Israel wasn’t there to take them in? South Africa certainly wouldn’t take them, not least of all because it has sided against Ukraine.

It’s such a gift to know that, like the Ethiopian Operation Moses in which Israel went to fetch the Jews who were fleeing, so the Jewish State is doing this right now.

Watching the war unfold on our little screens is devastating, and it’s impossible for it not to leave us and people around the world feeling vulnerable. If a country can do this to another country no matter how powerful or weak, no matter who’s right or wrong, then it can happen to anyone, including us.

And though most of us can’t believe that in today’s day and age, this kind of behaviour is possible, there’s some solace in knowing that being Jewish, there’s a place that’s looking out for our wellbeing.

I would never want to leave South Africa, my home. I’m 100% committed to this country and its future. I don’t want to emigrate because I don’t believe the grass is greener anywhere else. I love the culture, people and everything (other than crime) in this country. Yes, we have problems, but who doesn’t?

Having said all of that, it makes me feel just a little safer knowing that there’s a Jewish State.

I’m also impressed that Israel is sending medical personnel and whatever resources it can to help the Ukrainians no matter what. This is in spite of the fact that Israel has relations with Ukraine and Russia and isn’t quite off the fence, albeit the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is trying to broker peace.

For those who have had to leave their homes in Ukraine and are literally forced to start a new life somewhere else, I can only imagine your pain.

I can’t help but be reminded of the words of our new Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Eli Belotserkovsky, who was born in Moldova (a country bordering Ukraine) that was also part of the Soviet Union, when I interviewed him on his arrival here.

“Coming from Eastern Europe, which was dark and gloomy,” he said, “we found Israel full of light and warmth.” He, too, had left his birthplace with nothing of value besides books and had to start from scratch.

Ending one life and beginning a new has a bleakness as well as an element of excitement because as awful as the ending is, a person never knows what awaits them down the line. Here’s to a better life for all!

Shabbat Shalom!

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