Weekly News Update 
WASHINGTON, D.C. September 20, 2017

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

This week, NCSEJ leadership was in New York City for meetings at the United Nations General Assembly. We had the opportunity to meet with heads of state, including President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, members of the diplomatic community, and our colleagues at other American Jewish organizations. It was a very productive few days for all of us. 

We would like to extend congratulations to Mark for being recognized as one of Algemeiner Magazine's 'J100,' a list of 100 individuals positively influencing Jewish life around the world. Mark received this honor at a gala hosted by Algemeiner on Monday in New York City. A complete list of this year's honorees can be found here.

This week's update features two stories from Belarus. One article highlights Jewish attitudes toward life in Belarus and how the Jewish community has been able to function despite the many challenges they have continued to face. Another article examines how democracy activists in Belarus are reacting to the Zapad military exercises with Russia that are scheduled to end today.

This week, the US Senate approved a military aid package for Ukraine 89-8 that includes $500 million and provisions for lethal weapons. The House passed the bill in July and it is expected to reach President Trump's desk in the coming days. President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko and President Trump are expected to meet tomorrow.

In observance of Rosh Hashanah, the NCSEJ office will be closed tomorrow and Friday, September 22. NCSEJ wishes everyone a happy, sweet New Year 5778! L'Shanah Tovah! 

Daniel Rubin
NCSEJ Chairman
Aleksander Smukler
NCSEJ President
Washington, D.C. September 20, 2017

This Year, Remember the World’s Poorest Jews

By David Schizer

The Forward, September 18, 2017

As I look ahead to the New Year, I am reminded of how many challenges the world is facing, and of how fortunate I am. As an American Jew, I belong to the most secure, prosperous, and influential diaspora community in the history of the world. Although my European ancestors said the same Rosh Hashanah prayers as I do, their lives were very different from mine. They did not have enough to eat, and I eat too much. They worried about pogroms, and I worry about the New York Mets.

My life is so different for a simple reason: over a century ago, my great-grandparents and grandparents chose to cross the ocean. This fateful choice gave my family unprecedented opportunities, while those who stayed behind experienced unprecedented horrors: two world wars, the Holocaust, and decades of Communist oppression. It is no exaggeration to say that my life was defined in fundamental ways by a choice made, for me, decades before I was born.

At some level, I have always known this. But this knowledge was an abstraction, residing in my head instead of in my heart.

JDC Provides Rosh Hashanah Aid to Elderly Jews in the Former Soviet Union

Algemeiner/JNS.org, September 19, 2017

Impoverished elderly Jews across the former Soviet Union are expected to receive extra food and traditional holiday fare, including apples and honey, for the Rosh Hashanah Jewish New Year.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in partnership with the Claims Conference and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship) will be delivering the aid to Jews throughout the region.

In addition to the extra food aid for the High Holiday season, elderly Jews will also be able to participate in local holiday activities including concerts, games, cooking workshops, and cultural performances courtesy of the JDC’s network of Hesed social welfare centers. Homebound seniors will receive visits from volunteers to help celebrate Rosh Hashanah.

Read the full article here.

Tillerson, Lavrov Discuss Ukraine, Syria Ahead of UN General Assembly

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, September 18, 2017

 U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have met in New York ahead of the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, with Ukraine and Syria key topics of discussion, officials said.


The U.S. State Department earlier had said that Tillerson would travel to the Russian UN mission to meet with his counterpart on September 17.


Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert after the session said in a statement that the diplomats "met this evening in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly."


"The two recommitted to deconflicting military operations in Syria, reducing the violence, and creating the conditions for the Geneva process to move forward," she said.


Read the full article here.

Uzbekistan’s Mirziyoev Vows Focus on Bringing Prosperity, Improving Rights

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, September 20, 2017

In his first address to the United Nations General Assembly, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev has pledged to focus his government on bringing greater prosperity and human rights to his nation and the Central Asian region.

The Uzbek leader said on September 19 that his goal of improving the living conditions of citizens was what led him this month to allow the free float of the Uzbek currency while also reducing business taxes, expanding loans to businesses, and establishing free economic zones.

"We proceed from one simple truth: the richer the people are, the stronger shall be the state," Mirziyoev said, according to an English-language translation of his remarks provided on the UN website.

Mirziyoev said his government will work to create "a peaceful and economically prosperous Central Asia" that will be "a zone of stability, sustainable development, and good-neighborliness."

Read the full article here.

Remembering Babi Yar

By Alex Ryvchin

Tablet, September 15, 2017

From the late 1950s onwards, a small group of Soviet intellectuals began assembling annually at a site on the northern fringe of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, that had become a pasture for cattle. Some would stand in solemn lament, while the Jews among them would join in hushed incantations, speaking the ancient prayer for the dead. The Soviet police would look on. If the group lingered for too long or began to arouse the interest of passersby, they would be dispersed. If they laid flowers, they would spend the next 15 days in jail.

On September 19, 1961, another Soviet intellectual, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, published a poem bearing the name of that site in the leading Soviet literary journal, Literaturnaya Gazeta. The poem was “Babi Yar.” It began with the words, “No monument stands over Babi Yar. A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.”

Twenty years before the publication of Yevtushenko’s poem, nearly to the day, Babi Yar was the scene of one of the darkest chapters in human history, an oft forgotten and deliberately obfuscated stanza in the chronicles of human barbarism.

Read the full article here.

Kiev’s new JCC celebrates marriage of elderly couple who met there

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, September 15, 2017

Less than a year after it opened, this city’s American-style Jewish community center celebrated the first wedding by a couple who met here: a 68-year-old woman and a 72-year-old man who fell in love during dancing class.

Maya Serebryanaya and Valeriy Utvenko registered at City Hall as husband and wife earlier this month after meeting several months ago at Halom, the community center that opened in November in downtown Kiev with funding from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, or JDC.

“When we saw each other in Halom, we understood we’ll be together and we were waiting for Wednesday and Friday because every week both of us went to Halom for those programs,” Utvenko said. Both he and Serebryanaya had been married, but their spouses died.

Read the full article here.

U.S. Senate approves $500 million military aid, military weapons for Ukraine
By Will Ponomarenko

Kyiv Post, September 19, 2017

The U.S. Senate passed on Sept. 18 the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, authorizing the provision to Ukraine of $500 million worth of military aid, including lethal defensive weapons.

The bill was approved 89 to 8 votes, and will now go to the president’s desk for signing. The document was approved by the lower chamber of the U.S. Congress, the House of Representatives, on July 14.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, writing on his Facebook page on Sept. 19, said that Congress’s bill would authorize U.S. defense budget funds for the medical treatment of Ukrainian servicemen in the United States, as well as funds to develop Ukraine’s navy.

Read the full article here.

A View From Ukraine’s Edge

By Thomas de Waal

Carnegie Europe, September 19, 2017

Kyiv feels far away and everywhere else does too.

This town in the southwestern corner of Ukraine should be flourishing. A magnificent domed Orthodox church, dating back to 1838, testifies to its glorious past as a town on the edge of the Russian empire. Bolhrad is next to some of the richest farming land in Eastern Europe. It is only a few kilometers from the lower reaches of the Danube, with Romania and the European Union just on the other side of the river (Bessarabia was in fact ruled by Romania up until 1940). Its majority ethnic community has another patron in the EU: they are predominantly Bulgarians, whose forebears settled here from Ottoman lands in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Bolhrad should also in theory have a stake in the dramatic political row currently convulsing Ukraine. After all, it is the birthplace of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, whose father worked here as an engineer and factory director. And, as one of the main towns of Ukrainian Bessarabia, it is part of Odessa Region which was, until a year ago, governed by Poroshenko’s former ally and now would-be nemesis, ex-Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili.

In Belarus, some Jews don’t mind a dictator

By Cnaan Lipshiz

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, September 19, 2017

At the age of 36, Yishai Malkin and his family are leading what millions of people in the former Soviet Union would consider a charmed life.

A web designer, Malkin and his wife, an event manager, earn a combined monthly salary of $2,000. That’s comfortable enough to allow them to travel abroad and pay the mortgage for the centrally located riverview apartment where they live with their 6-year-old son.

“We have made a very good life for us in this country,” Malkin told JTA in a recent interview at his home, which is a stone’s throw from this capital city’s main synagogue and several kosher shops in an area where Jews say anti-Semitic harassment never occurs. “Especially as Jews, we are very fortunate to be living here.”

It’s not the kind of statement one associates with members of a minority living in what is often called in the international media “Europe’s last dictatorship” — referring to the authoritarian regime of Alexander Lukashenko, the country’s president since 1994.

Read the full article here.

Here’s what pro-democracy activists in Belarus fear most about Russia’s war games

By David Filipov

Washington Post, September 16, 2017

When I asked for an interview with Mikalai Statkevich about his opposition to the Russian military exercises underway in his country, the answer said it all: He would be glad to see me if he wasn’t arrested first.

Statkevich is a leader of the small but stubborn opposition to President Alexander Lukashenko, whose 23-year rule of Belarus has earned the nation wedged between Russia and Poland the nickname “Europe’s last dictatorship.”

A court has sentenced Statkevich to 15 days in jail for his part in a Sept. 8 demonstration against the Zapad 2017 war games, which Russian and Belarusan forces kicked off Thursday. Opposition advocates fear the exercise could be used as a cover for the Russian military to remain in Belarus to deter the country from slipping out of Moscow's orbit.

Read the full article here.

Feeling Jewish in St. Petersburg

By Rochel Sylvetsky

Arutz Sheva, September 19, 2017

If you are Jewish, American-born and living in the USA, it is not hard to describe how you feel in New York – or Teaneck, Boston, Boca Raton, Miami, Memphis, Los Angeles– and anywhere else in the fifty states:  You feel right at home, and don't think at all about how you feel.  America – to the Founding Father's credit - succeeded in accomplishing that, even for Jews, and your belonging is not up for discussion.  You have grown up feeling self-confident about being American and Jewish, it's not a problem and even a plus in some ways.

If you are modern Orthodox, your love of Israel does not contradict your feeling of belonging in your native land. If you are anti-Zionist or disapprove of Israel's government, your feeling of belonging is certainly unaffected by Israel, your community is simply one face of American diversity– except that it might cause you some annoyance to be connected to Israel in people's minds. 

And if you are one of the 80% of Jewish adults who consider intermarriage a non-issue, perhaps you are proof that not having to think about feeling at home has its drawbacks.

Russian Court Rejects Suit By Wallenberg Relatives Seeking Archive Documents

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, September 18, 2017

A Moscow court threw out a lawsuit against Russia’s main security agency filed by relatives of Raoul Wallenberg, seeking documents related to the Swedish diplomat's final years before his death in a Soviet prison.

Wallenberg’s niece and other relatives had sought to force the Federal Security Agency, the main successor to the KGB, to provide uncensored documentation that could shed light on Wallenberg’s fate, one of many enduring mysteries of the Cold War period.

But the Meshchansky District Court rejected the effort on September 18, saying the documents being sought contained personal information about other individuals and therefore could not be released.

Read the full article here.

Atlantic Drift: Russia and the U.S.-Europe Divide

By Fyodor Lukyanov

Carnegie Europe, September 18, 2017

For decades, the United States has always loomed large in European-Russian relations. Washington has been the omnipresent third party in dealings between Russia and Europe, serving both as a guarantor of European security and a stakeholder in the transatlantic system. But now that is open to question.

Growing uncertainty around the future of the transatlantic alliance presents new challenges for bilateral and multilateral relations between Russia, the EU, and the United States. On issues such as sanctions, NATO, and EU expansion, the unified transatlantic front of the past has begun to show cracks. Yet stuck between an increasingly activist Russia and the United States, Europe is ill-prepared to conduct a policy of “strategic autonomy” that some are calling for.

Over the past thirty years, the Western political order has gone through several iterations. The Western Europe of the Cold War, part of a divided European continent, embraced its transatlantic identity through having a shared adversary in Moscow. Then, in the post-Soviet period, the strong political and economic body represented by the European Union presumed less patronage from Washington and a subordinate role for Moscow.

Read the full article here.

Israeli Ambassador: Business Ties with Lithuania Thrive as BDS is MIA

By Max Schindler

Jerusalem Post, September 16, 2017

Business deals and trade ties are booming between Israel and Lithuania, Israel’s envoy to the country said, and few if any activists of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement are active in the country.

Ambassador Amir Maimon spoke on Thursday to a small delegation of Israeli journalists touring the country’s start-up and hi-tech scene as guests of the Lithuanian Economy Ministry.

“Trade between Israel and Lithuania has been positive and has shown consistent, if not very fast, growth between the two over the last decade,” Maimon said over lunch at a posh restaurant in the capital, Vilnius, adding that Israeli tourism to the Eastern European country had increased by nearly 25% since 2016.

Bilateral trade stood at around €270 million (NIS 1.1 billion) in 2016, with around two-thirds pertaining to military hardware and cybersecurity software.

Read the full article here.

[Link to pdf of full articles]
1120 20th Street NW, Ste. 300N Washington, DC 20036-3413
Telephone: +1 202 898 2500  |  ncsej@ncsej.org
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.