Weekly Top 10
WASHINGTON, D.C. March 2, 2018

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO

Dear Friend,

On Monday, NCSEJ met with Polish government officials including Deputy Foreign Minister Marek Magierowski and Ambassador Piotr Wilczek. We had the opportunity to have an open and candid conversation about Poland's anti-defamation legislation and will continue to push for the most equitable solution to the current situation. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin made his annual state-of-the-nation address on March 1 in advance of presidential elections on March 18. President Putin declared that Russia has developed an arsenal of powerful new nuclear weapons and vowed to slash the country's poverty rate and grow the economy. 

An Israeli report has found that, for the first time in more than a decade, Russians and Ukrainians make up the largest portion of new immigrants to Israel.

Jewish communities around the world celebrated Purim this week, including in the Belarusian city of Gomel. We share with you a short article and photo gallery from the World Union of Progressive Judaism covering their celebration.

We remind you that NCSEJ's Annual Board Meeting will take place in Washington, DC on Tuesday, June 5. Please save the date if you have not already done so.

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. March 2, 2018

In Poland, a Grass-Roots Jewish Revival Endures

By Jonathan Ornstein

New York Times, February 26, 2018

“Should I still visit Poland?”

I’ve been asked this question a lot in the last two weeks by people planning trips to Krakow, where I’ve lived for 17 years after growing up in New York and then spending seven years in Israel. They are worried about the “Holocaust bill” recently passed by the Polish government and the war of words that erupted in response on the international diplomatic level, as well as among the Polish public and the global Jewish community.

The concern is genuine, warranted and appreciated. We, the Polish Jewish community, are weathering challenging times. The country we call home can feel a little less welcoming these days. On one hand, young people who only recently discovered their Jewish roots have eagerly joined newly opened Hillel student organizations in Warsaw and Krakow. But they hold in the back of their minds a question of what the future may bring.

Read the full article here.

Why Polish Jews Are Growing Uneasy

By Leonid Bershidsky

Bloomberg, February 27, 2018

A month ago Poland passed the revised statute of its state-run Institute of National Remembrance, making it illegal to apportion any blame for Nazi crimes to Poland. Yet Mateusz Szpytma, the INR's deputy president, still can't explain to me what exactly one needs to say to end up in prison for three years.

"Ask the prosecutor," is all Szpytma will say. But doesn't the law empower the institute to make official complaints in such cases? Szpytma, on the defensive and looking sorry he agreed to talk to a journalist, shakes his head: The IPN, he insists, won't have anything to do with punishing people for what they say about Polish history. It exists to do research, not to create an official version of that history.

Read the full article here.

Israeli, Polish delegations begin ‘open, candid’ dialogue on Holocaust law

Times of Israel/AFP, March 1, 2018

Senior Israeli and Polish diplomats met in Jerusalem on Thursday in a bid to resolve differences over a controversial Holocaust law passed in Poland that has raised concerns in the Jewish state, with both sides vowing to preserve “the truth.”

Deputy foreign minister Bartosz Cichocki led the visiting Polish delegation, while Foreign Ministry Director General Yuval Rotem headed Israel’s team.

 “I look forward to an open candid and friendly dialogue between Israel and Poland as expected between friends and allies,” Rotem told journalists before the start of the meeting. “We must make sure that historical truths are preserved and that there is no restriction on freedom of research and speech.”

Read the full article here.

Russia and Ukraine provided Israel with majority of immigrants in 2017

By Cnaan Lipshiz

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, February 26, 2018

For the first time in more than a decade, Russia and Ukraine provided Israel with most of its immigrants in a calendar year.

Russia emerged as Israel’s largest provider of immigrants under its law of return for Jews and their relatives with 7,224 newcomers, followed by 7,182 immigrants from the Ukraine, according to an updated report of immigration to Israel, or aliyah, by a partnering organization of the Ministry for Immigrant Absorption.

The update from last week includes those who entered as tourists and applied for aliyah while already in Israel.

Read the full article here.

‘Listen To Us Now’: Putin Unveils Weapons, Vows to Raise Living Standards in Fiery Annual Address

By Tony Wesolowsky

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 1, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted of powerful new nuclear weapons, pledged to cut the country's poverty rate in half, and vowed to make its economy one of the world’s mightiest in his annual state-of-the-nation address on March 1.

Speaking before hundreds of top officials and lawmakers 17 days before an election that seems certain to hand him a new six-year term, Putin set out ambitious domestic goals and issued defiant warnings to the West, which he accused of trying to hold Russia back.

"I want to tell all those who have fueled the arms race over the last 15 years, sought to win unilateral advantages over Russia, introduced unlawful sanctions aimed at containing our country's development: Everything that you wanted to impede with your policies has already happened," he said. "You have failed to contain Russia."

Read the full article here.

Ukraine Moves Closer to Anticorruption Court, But Doubts Remain

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 1, 2018

Ukraine's parliament has approved the first reading of legislation creating an anticorruption court demanded by protest groups and the country’s external backers, although critics charge the effort does not go far enough.

The draft law, which was presented by President Petro Poroshenko in December, won the support of 282 of the 450 deputies on March 1 in the parliament, known as the Verkhovna Rada.

In an apparent response to demands from Western allies as well as protesters camped outside parliament in Kyiv, Poroshenko last year vowed to push for legislation creating an anticorruption court.

Read the full article here.

Ukraine and the EU: So Close and Yet So Far

By Gwendolyn Sasse

Carnegie Europe, February 26, 2018

The relationship between Ukraine and the EU is a test of how close a country’s relations with the EU can be without the prospect of full union membership. Despite a progressive deepening of the relationship, rooted in the Association Agreement (AA) and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), the cycle of EU-Ukrainian relations has reached a stage where both sides are showing signs of fatigue, if not distrust, and the joint commitment to reforms is wavering in the run-up to the 2019 elections year in Ukraine.

Since the adoption of visa liberalization in June 2017, about 400,000 Ukrainians have made use of the newly gained opportunities to travel to the Schengen Area. This is, of course, a tiny percentage of the overall Ukrainian population—less than one percent—but the symbolic importance of the visa-free regime has been far greater. By itself, however, it will not be sufficient to sustain either interest and trust in the EU or the reform commitment of the Ukrainian elites.

Read the full article here.

Trump administration says it intends to sell antitank missiles to Ukraine

By Dan Lamothe

Washington Post, March 1, 2018

The Trump administration signaled Thursday that it plans to sell the Ukrainian government Javelin antitank missiles, a weapon Ukrainian troops could use in combat against Russian-backed separatists.

The State Department announced its intention to send the weapons in a notification to Congress, saying that they will cost about $47 million. The deal would include 210 missiles and 37 launch units and training on how to use them.

“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by improving the security of Ukraine,” the State Department’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement. “The Javelin system will help Ukraine build its long-term defense capacity to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity in order to meet its national defense requirements.”

Read the full article here.

Austria just hosted Europe’s largest conference on anti-Semitism. It was challenging with a far-right party in the government.

By Cnaan Lipshiz

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, February 27, 2018

Until December, Milli Segal’s main challenge as a producer of Jewish-themed events in Austria was balancing her duties at work with her hands-on approach to being a Jewish grandmother of four.

As an organizer of prestigious Holocaust commemoration projects, Segal, 63, is on a first-name basis with some of the country’s most senior politicians, and draws on 20 years of experience to prevent or solve most any complication.

Last year alone, she headed the communications efforts around the unveiling of memorial monuments at the Aspangbanhof train station and the Herminengasse subway station. That’s while she was negotiating the relocation of a museum that Segal had established recently in this capital city for child survivors of the Holocaust.

From a Place of Worship to a Bakery: European Synagogues Are Changing Their Role

By Ofer Aderet

Haaretz, February 26, 2018

The synagogue of Smalyavichy, a town in Belarus, is a movie theater today. In the Lithuanian town of Vabalninkas, the former synagogue is now a swimming pool. In Wiesenbach, Germany, a hospital occupies the synagogue building, while in Kralupy, in the Czech Republic, what used to be the local synagogue is now a bakery.

The Historic Synagogues of Europe, a database that was launched last week, tells a sad story. Of the 17,000 or so synagogues in Europe prior to World War II, only 3,318 still stand. Less than a quarter are still in use; the remainder are abandoned, in ruins, or have been repurposed.

About 20 were turned into garages or parking lots, eight are now banks, six became police stations and many others now house churches, restaurants, concert halls and theaters. Two are now mosques.

Read the full article here.

[Link to pdf of full articles]
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Founded in 1971, the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry represents the organized American Jewish community in monitoring and advocating on behalf of the estimated 1.5 million Jews in Eastern Europe and Eurasia, including the 15 successor states of the former Soviet Union.