Weekly Top 10
WASHINGTON, D.C. December 28, 2018

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

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

Dear Friend,

We at NCSEJ wish you a Happy New Year!

A new year is a new beginning – a chance to reach our goals and build a brighter future.
Start the New Year with a contribution to NCSEJ. Remember, Jewish communities in Eurasia depend on NCSEJ and NCSEJ depends on you.

Click here to make a donation online, or call us at (202) 898-2500 to donate by phone.  

Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Washington, D.C. December 28, 2018

Hungary, Canary in the Illiberal Coal Mine
By William A. Galston
Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2018

With a declining population of 9.7 million, Hungary makes up less than 2% of the European Union. But under the leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Hungary punches above its weight. Mr. Orbán’s staunch opposition to admitting more than a million refugees into Europe in 2015 thwarted German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plan to distribute them throughout the EU, and his program of what he calls “illiberal democracy” has inspired other Central European leaders, including in Poland, to follow suit. Events in Hungary are often leading indicators of developments elsewhere.

Hungarian democracy had another bad year in 2018. More than 400 private news outlets have been brought under the control of a holding company run by close allies of Mr. Orbán, including his personal lawyer and a lawmaker from his party, Fidesz. While proponents defend the move as promoting “balance” in Hungarian media, critics say it amounts to a thinly veiled return to a communist-style centralized state-media system. Adding credibility to the objections, Mr. Orbán issued a decree exempting the holding company from scrutiny by the agency charged with protecting competition against excessive concentration. Meanwhile, one of the two remaining major opposition newspapers shut down after the government ceased advertising in it.

Ukraine Honors a Nazi Collaborator, and Blocks Scrutiny of Leader who Presided over Pogroms
By Cnaan Lipshiz
JTA, December 27, 2018

Ukraine designated the birthday of a Nazi collaborator as a national holiday and banned a book on the anti-Semitic actions of another national leader.

The Ukrainian parliament last week declared Jan. 1 as a national day of commemoration for Stepan Bandera, who briefly joined forces with the Nazi occupation of Ukraine. A nationalist, Bandera hoped the Germans would allow his country sovereignty from the Soviet Union, though the Nazis later arrested him.

Some of his supporters at the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, which he headed, committed countless war crimes against Jews.

Lost for over 70 Years, Rare Great Synagogue Candle Found after Fear It Had Been Looted by Nazi Germany
By Nissan Tzur
The First News, December 27, 2018

A rare eternal candle, the single vestige of a synagogue looted and destroyed by Nazi-Germans during WWII, has been discovered in the town of Tarnów where it lay hidden for 79 years.

Following the outbreak of war, marauding German troops decimated the town’s Great Synagogue leaving virtually nothing standing. 

Not realising the value of the candle, the soldiers left it among the ruins where it was found by a local Polish man who took it, planning to later return it to the Jewish community. 

By the end of the war though, the town’s 30,000 Jewish population had all but been wiped out and those who survived didn’t stay long.

The Last Jewish Town in Azerbaijan
By Yova Keren
Y Net News, December 22, 2018

In a small cafe in Qirmizi, Azerbaijan, a few elderly mountain Jews chat over a strong tea with sugar cubes. They speak Juhuro, the forsaken tongue of Caucasus Jews. It’s a kind of Persian mixed with Hebrew.

One of them, an elderly man with a big white mustache and a black cap, proudly shows off his arm, decorated with a flower tattoo. “I had it done when I was 20 years old. So that when I’m old, I’ll remember my youthful days,” he said.

The cafe has a small shaded yard with two tables covered in oilcloth, and a pile of firewood next to them. It gets cold here in winters, on the foothills of the Greater Caucasus. An old Lada, essentially a tin can on wheels, is parked under a weeping willow tree. There are many Ladas on Azerbaijan’s roads, plodding alongside some extremely luxurious cars.

Poroshenko Ends Martial Law in Ukraine As Tensions with Russia Continue
RFERL, December 26, 2018

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has announced the end of martial law in the country's border regions that was imposed last month after Russia seized Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea.

"Today, right now, at 2 p.m. martial law ends. This is my principal decision," Poroshenko said during a military cabinet meeting in Kyiv on December 26.

Poroshenko said he had reached the decision "based on an analysis of all the components of the security situation in the country."

Leaders of American Jewish Groups Targeted by Russian Spies
By Ron Kampeas
Times of Israel, December 22, 2018

Russian spies sought information during the 2016 election on leaders of two major Jewish groups, the Anti-Defamation League and the National Council of Jewish Women, a report said.

BuzzFeed reported Thursday that the Russian financial crimes agency sought the information under the auspices of a joint US-Russia effort to track down terrorist financing.

According to the report, “in the final year of the Obama administration…Russian agents ostensibly trying to track ISIS instead pressed their American counterparts for private financial documents on at least two dozen dissidents, academics, private investigators, and American citizens” they apparently considered Russia’s enemies.

Russia Accuses Israel of ‘Provocative’ Airstrike in Syria 
JNS, December 26, 2018

Russia blamed Israel on Wednesday for launching an airstrike on Tuesday night near Damascus, threatening civilian flights.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov accused Israel of launching a “provocative” raid consisting of six Israeli F-16 jets simultaneously as two commercial airliners were about to land in the Syrian capital and Beirut, enabling a “direct threat” to the planes.

Konashenkov claimed that Syrian forces shot down 14 of 16 Israeli missiles, with the remaining two striking a Syrian military base about 4.3 miles west of Damascus, injuring a few Syrian soldiers. It was unclear if the advanced Russian-made S-300 missile-defense system was used.

Germany to Support Creation of Sobibor Memorial in Poland
By Monika Sieradzka
Deutche Welle, December 24, 2018 

Fountain pens, books, playing cards, earrings, combs, hairpins, watches and thousands of other items were taken from prisoners shortly before they entered the gas chambers at Sobibor. Today, there are only small memorials to mark the murders at the site of the extermination camp. Objects dug up over the years of archaeological excavation will be stored at another memorial site: Majdanek, near Lublin.

Germany will offer €1 million ($1.14 million) toward a permanent exhibition at Sobibor so that visitors never forget the country's Nazi-era crimes. The finances will initially go to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, which will then transfer it to Sobibor. The exhibition is scheduled to open within two years.

Read the full article here.

Faces of the Future: Jewish Teen Life in the Former Soviet Union
E Jewish Philanthropy, December 23, 2018

These four words don’t often make their way into modern lexicon of Jewish life, especially as defined by teens. But imagine being born into a world where Jewish identity and activity are only a generation old.

Imagine being able to build it from the ground up, on your own terms, and engaging in this miraculous effort together with your peers.

And then imagine serving as a Jewish role model not just for your friends, but for your younger siblings, parents, grandparents, and wider community.

This is Active Jewish Teens (AJT), the growing teen program in the former Soviet Union which in just five years has grown to include more than 3,000 teens through local chapters in 57 cities in 7 counties.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: Last Surviving Fighter, Simcha Rotem, Dies at 94
BBC, December 22, 2018

Rotem was 15 when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939.

He joined the ZOB, the Warsaw Ghetto's Jewish Combat Organisation, in 1942 although he admitted that in the face of the Nazis' firepower "I felt utterly helpless".

By April 1943, many of the ghetto's Jews had died and the thousands remaining faced deportation, so Rotem joined those who decided to fight to "choose the kind of death" they wanted.

He said in 2013: "But to this very day I keep thinking whether we had the right to make the decision to start the uprising and by the same token to shorten the lives of many people by a week, a day or two."

[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.