As violence grips the Ukrainian port city of Odessa, Jewish community leaders say they have an evacuation plan in place should the situation further deteriorate. This as an Israeli agency reports that the immigration of Ukrainian Jews to Israel has increased 142% since last year amid rising concerns over anti-Semitic displays in the embattled Eastern European country.
The Jerusalem Post surveyed Jewish community leaders in Odessa and wrote on Monday that while they don’t believe the weekend violence in their city was connected to them, they expressed concern that any deterioration in the already volatile environment could have a spillover effect that could impact Jews.
Rabbi Refael Kruskal — who heads the organization Tikva, runs orphanages, schools and services for the elderly –told the Post, “If it gets worse, then we’ll take them [the children] out of the city. We have plans to take them both out of the city and even to a different country if necessary, plans which we prefer not to talk about which we have in place.”
Kruskal said that the Great Choral Synagogue in Odessa was closed over the weekend, while community leaders sent text messages to congregants telling them to stay off the streets as a precaution.
With May 9 marking the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany, Kruskal said he was considering moving 600 Jews temporarily to the countryside to avoid any possible “provocations” on the sidelines of the anniversary commemoration.
“The next weekend is going to be very violent,” he said.
Other community leaders also told the Post about their evacuation plans should the need arise.
Kira Verkhovsky of the Migdal International Center of Jewish Community Programs said, “If the situation will be worse, we are planning to move.”
And the Chabad Lubavitcher emissary Rabbi Avraham Wolf said that while the current circumstances do not require an evacuation, “We have a number of plans.”
Chabad facilities have instituted new security measures including armed guards and “a situation check every half hour,” Wolf said.
The Post further reported that the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews has 70 buses ready to move “if, God forbid, we have to evacuate,” Wolf added.
The Jewish Agency, which provides services to Jews wishing to move to Israel, reported last week that 777 new immigrants had arrived in Israel from Ukraine since the beginning of this year, a 142% increase compared with the same time period last year.
Those fleeing Odessa in particular increased three-fold, the Jewish Agency noted on its blog, while 200 additional immigrants have registered in Ukraine for flights to Israel this month.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Odessa has a Jewish community of about 30,000.
The International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem said it has been “raising funds from Christians worldwide over recent weeks” in order to fly 100 Ukrainian Jews to Israel, including 19 who arrived on Sunday, the Times of Israel reported.
“The unfolding crisis in Ukraine has meant an even more uncertain future for the Jewish community there, and we have acted swiftly once again to bring needy and endangered Jews home from this troubled region,” the group’s director Jürgen Bühler said in a statement.
Since the unrest began, a number of anti-Semitic incidents have been reported, including the firebombing of a synagogue and the defacement of a Holocaust memorial and Jewish graves. As TheBlaze previously reported, leaflets were distributed outside a synagogue in Donetsk by unknown men telling Jews they had to register their religion and property with separatist authorities or face deportation, though pro-Russian separatist leaders disassociated themselves with the document and called it a provocation.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told NBC last month that those responsible for the leaflets – whom he called “bastards” – should be found and prosecuted.
Vice President Joe Biden on a visit to Kiev last month said, “Just as corruption can have no place in the new Ukraine, neither can anti-Semitism or bigotry.”