An Israeli newspaper is reporting that 70% of Ukraine’s Jewish community is now considering emigrating to Israel and that many are “flooding” the Israeli consulate to secure immigration visas in order to flee the country.
This follows reports earlier this week that Jewish leaders in Odessa have put together an evacuation plan should anti-Semitic displays in the embattled Eastern European country escalate.
Rabbi Avraham Wolf, who has served as chief rabbi of Odessa and southern Ukraine for 22 years, told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily that the emigration demand is unprecedented.
“We experienced years of starvation and wars, and in all of those years I haven’t heard so much talk about making aliyah [moving to Israel] as I do now,” he said.
“It’s a phenomenon the likes of which we haven’t seen since the massive immigration from the Soviet Union in the early 90s. For several months now that the economy here is being crushed and the sense of security is at the lowest level it could get,” Rabbi Wolf said.
While the violence currently gripping Odessa is centered on Russian-Ukrainian rivalries, the Jewish community is concerned about being eventually targeted in light of Ukraine’s extensive history of anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Wolf said that he has already seen “sparks of anti-Semitism.”
“The Jewish governor and one of the mayoral candidates, who is also Jewish, are being blamed,” Wolf said.
Since the unrest began in Ukraine, there have been reports of anti-Jewish incidents including the fire-bombing of a synagogue, the defacement of a Holocaust memorial and the distribution of leaflets ordering Jews to register their religion, their property and to pay a fine, a document that was later characterized as a provocation.
Rabbi Wolf described the ominous sense in the Odessa Jewish community where armed security guards are now positioned at prayer meetings and at Jewish schools.
“The city is at war and has turned into a ghost town,” Wolf told Yedioth. “People are not leaving the house and there’s a feeling of a blockade. We had to increase security with guards at Jewish-owned businesses, and add 50 guards to Friday prayers at synagogues in the city.”
He said that two-thirds of congregants stayed home from Sabbath worship this past weekend.
Over the weekend, 19 Jews from Ukraine landed in Israel with the intent to stay.
Daria Granovsky, a 23-year-old Jewish woman who arrived in Israel on Sunday said, “There has not been much violence yet where I live in Kiev, but the troubles are getting worse and worse every day and you could sense it was coming our way.”
“Anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi groups were already on the rise in The Ukraine even before the current political crisis erupted, and many Jews no longer feel safe there and are preparing to leave for Israel,” the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem posted on its website.
The group says it has “over recent decades” helped some 42,000 Jews move to Israel from Ukraine, including those who arrived on Sunday.
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.