26- Glory to Ukraine
In this episode, Rabbi Lehrfield talks about Ukraine, specifically the history of Jews in Ukraine, and their incredible President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Hey everybody. I'm Menachem Lehrfield and this is 0% this week. We're gonna do something a little different just last week, Jews throughout the world celebrated the holiday of poem. And on it, we read look of Esther named after the heroine of the perm story, Esther, herself, but was Esther really the hero of the story. What was her response? When Mordecai comes to her and says, it's your time to go to the king? It's your time to save the Jewish people? Was she willing to go right away? Was she excited for the opportunity to save the Jews? No. Her response to Mordecai is that anybody who goes to the king without being invited, without being summoned was punished by death, including his wife, including me, the queen, plus she points out the had, and summoned her in 30 days, she was afraid for her life.
She seemed more concerned about her own welfare than saving her people. And Mordecai actually calls her out. He says to her, don't think that just because you're in the palace, you're safe. When it comes down to it. If Haman wants to kill all the Jew, you are included in that as well. And also says, Mordecai, don't think that if you don't step in and you don't do your part, that we're not gonna be saved. I know says Mordecai, that God has a plan for us. And this is not how the story ends. You have the opportunity to rise to the occasion. You have the opportunity to make your mark on history. And if you don't do it, salvation will come from somewhere else. And after Mordecai's comments, Esther agrees and she goes in hesitantly. Is that really a hero? Judaism teaches us that the answer is yes.
Jewish wisdom teaches us AZA, who Gib, who is strong, who is a warrior, who is a hero, ha S Giro, somebody who overcomes their base or instincts a hero is not someone who's unafraid. A hero is somebody who is afraid. And does it anyway, a leader is not somebody who isn't afraid a leader is somebody who, despite being afraid, doesn't hide away in a bunker underneath the ground, but goes in full force ahead of the people. And that's why law is that a Jewish king didn't stay in his palace during a battle. The Jewish king went on the front lines. And that's exactly what happened in biblical times. Unlike other monarchies, the Israeli king was required to go into the actual heat of battle and they fought on the front lines, putting their lives on the line, proves that they are servant of the people, perhaps whether he knows it or not.
Maybe this is the inspiration for president Zelensky to take the heroic stance in he's taken. Not everyone knows this, but Zelensky before he became a politician was actually a comedian and an actor. And he played the part on a show, actually called the servant of the people where he's caught on a rant, which is recorded on a cell phone, going on this tie rate against the corruption in government. And the video goes viral. Again, this is all on the sitcom. The video goes viral and he ends up becoming elected as the present of Ukraine. Eventually he, you talk about fiction leading to reality. He eventually become president of Ukraine winning by a landslide vote of over 73%. And he has really proven to be a servant of the people, somebody and a leader who is thinking about the people first and foremost, here's a Jewish guy who runs for office, not pretending to not be Jewish, not hiding his Jewish, but being very proud and open of his Jewishness.
And we see these Jewish values coming to life. We see him living as a true mench as a real leader, putting the people first, a beautiful story, came out where the prime minister of Ukraine had spoken negatively about Zelensky. And somehow it was leaked what he had said, and the prime minister was mortified and he submitted his resignation. But when Zelensky received that official resignation, he denied it. He ripped it up and said, you can't resign because you resigning would not be in the best interest of the people. So here he was publicly slighted. He probably had every right to accept the resignation, get rid of the prime minister and move on. But he said it would create an instability in the government and it would create an instability for the people. That's a real me, but what's really captivated. The attention of the world is how he has put his life life on the line to protect and defend the people of Ukraine.
From the very beginning of the conflict. From the beginning of the Russian invasion, he has vowed to remain in Kiev, even though he describes himself as target number one, and he is Putin has made it clear. He is target number one, and his wife and children are target number two. And despite the danger he's in, he is vowed to stay and fight. In the first hours of the Russian attack. He recorded a quick video on his cell phone, where he said that we are here, our soldiers are here. The citizens of our country are here. We are all here protecting our independence, our country. And it will continue to be this way. That's a real leader. When he was asked, if he was escaping, he said, I don't need a lift. I need ammunition. That line reminds me so much of a family story. So I was very fortunate to know my great-grandmother very well.
Um, she passed away when I was in my early twenties and her father was rev Moha Morai TOKY who was the Tris re we'll talk a little bit more about, uh, citizen general and this Hasidic sec, towards the end of the episode, in any event in the 1930s, his daughter, my great-grandmother was already in America as was his other son who we knew as uncle of Ram and another son was in England. So they were all out of Europe already. And they saw what was happening and they got a visa for their father, the TriCore to come over to America. And he refused not because he didn't think it was so bad, not because he thought that it was gonna pass and move on, but he said, the captain goes down with the ship. I can't leave my people behind and, and just take this visa and go on to America.
If they're in peril, I'm in peril also. And he wasn't able to obtain visas to get everybody out. So if the ship is going down, the captain goes down with the ship. And that's exactly what happened. When the Nazis came to liquidate that town. When they came to, they took the re first. So they went, or my great-great grandfather first, before anybody else to make an example out of him, he knew they were coming after him. He ran to the mikvah, the ritual bath to prepare himself for his transition to the next world, after which he was immediately shot. And then publicly hanged the town as a way of demoralizing the community and the people who are eventually all taken to be killed. That is a real leader. And that's what we see today in the president of Ukraine, somebody who is putting his life on the line and not just abandoning his people, even though he may have the ability to, he may have privilege to escape, to get somewhere safe.
He's not doing that, just like queen nester, putting herself on the line on behalf of the people, thinking of the people first and their own interests last, even if there's internal conflict, even if that was a difficult decision to make, I don't know what Linsky was thinking before or after he took action. All that matters is what he actually does. Here's a man, who's a child of Holocaust survivors who knows what the end of the story looks like. And he's using that collective pain that collective history, not to be a victim, but to get up and do something about it. We're closing in now on almost a month since the invasion began and as our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Ukraine and to their leader, president Vladimir Zelensky. I wanna spend a few minutes talking about the Jewish presence and Jewish history in Ukraine.
There's a record of Jewish presence in Ukraine for over a thousand years. Artifacts dating back to the Roman period have been found and NORAs and oil lamps with a Torin depicting on the face, graffiti and Hebrew and Greek. There are Hebrew fragments that mention Jerusalem, which is apparently the only known instance of anything mentioning Jerusalem outside of ancient Israel. Some historians speculate that Jews have lived in the area, at least the ninth century. That's a long time. And even today, according to the European Jewish Congress, there are close to 400,000 Jews in Ukraine today. Now I understand we have a complicated history with Ukraine as a country, until the rise of Hitler.
Mel Nitsky was the greatest murderer of Jews in all of Jewish history. And we suffered tremendous proms and hatred and persecution. In fact, Mel Nitsky invented the prom. It's estimated that approximately a quarter of all J Jews murdered in the Holocaust came from Ukraine included in that was the worst massacre taking place in Bobby ya, or more than a hundred thousand Jews were murdered. But we can't look at that past history as a way of blaming the current people of Ukraine and saying that this may be cosmically or spiritually is their fault. I saw a few people post similar things like that on Facebook. And it was really disturbing. This is not the time and not the place you have to keep in mind that for the thousand years that Jews were in Ukraine, there was only antisemitism there for maybe 4% of that time.
96% of the time the Jews lived among the Ukrainians and they did business together. They were friendly with one another and yes, during that 4%, it was horrific and we can't ignore the porus and the collaboration during the Holocaust. We can't look at that though, as the totality of the UK Indian Jewish experience, just look at Ukraine today, unlike America, which I don't think at this point is ready to elect a Jewish president. They have a sitting president, who's a proud Jew, the 400,000 Jews living in Ukraine, don't face regular acts of violence and antisemitism. A pew research poll recently found that Ukraine is the most accepting of Jews among all central and Eastern European countries. Just last month, Ukraine's parliament passed a law, criminal antisemitism. The offense is punishable by a fine or prison sentence up to five years. And so I don't feel it's appropriate to talk about all of the historic antisemitism from Ukraine.
There is a time for it, and there is a place for it, but that's not. Now I do though. Wanna spend a few minutes talking about the rich Jewish history in Ukraine, as we mentioned, Jews have been living in Ukraine since ancient times in the sixth century, the KZA empire, which was a kingdom of Turkic people that arose in Southeastern Russia and extended as far west as Kiev, which is the capital of present day Ukraine. Let legend says that the Kasar king order representatives from the three monotheistic faiths to his palace, listened to each of them discuss their religion. And he was so struck with Judaism's beauty and lucidity that he decided to convert to Judaism, Yehuda LA, you wrote a book called Lu Kua, which is a fictitious book, which tries to imagine what those debates and conversations must have sounded like, but perhaps the greatest contribution to the Jewish world, which stemmed from Ukraine was the creation and founding of the Hasidic movement.
This perhaps had the most far reaching effect coming out of Ukraine for the Jewish world worldwide, and for me personally, in my family. My great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather. That's 12 greats. If you're counting was a man named rabbi Ben, ER, who became known as the B Chito, which literally means the master of a good name. He was born in 1698 to poor parents, Eliezer and Sarah who tried for many years to conceive a child. And finally, in their old age they did. But unfortunately, when he was only five years old, his father passed away. His mother passed away shortly thereafter and left him as an orphan. His father's parting word to young Yau was fear, nothing but the almighty, because he's always with you and love every single Jew dearly. And those were the words that he lived his life by keep in mind at the time the Jewish people, especially in Ukraine were, were in a state of deep depression following the KSKY massacres, which destroyed a huge part of Ukrainian jewelry and all the disappointment caused by the false Messiah shop sites.
V we can have an episode maybe next season talking a little bit about that. But Judaism was in a very precarious situation. At the time. There were only a few elite students who were studying in the yeshivas while the rest of the Jewish people were trying to somehow make a living and survive. And as a result, Jewish life was really suffering. The average Jew was not connected intellectually or spiritually to Judaism or to God. And this is exactly what the Ceto sought to change. He believed that man must worship God, not only when practicing religious acts and holy deeds, but a also in his daily life, it wasn't about doing Jewish. It was about being Jewish. He believed, and he taught as we have discussed many times on this podcast, that physical pleasure, wasn't something negative to be avoided, but something that can be elevated and made more spiritual that a physical act, if it's formed as worship of God is actually a spiritual act that can allow a person to feel a sense of Deus, a sense of closeness and clinging to the almighty.
He taught perhaps most importantly, that even the deeds of the simplest Jew, if performed sincerely were equal to are the greatest scholars, it wasn't just about the elite. It wasn't just about those who can spend hours and hours studying Torah, but that every single person had a way to connect to the deep spiritual heritage that was Judaism. It was their Ukraine that this movement of Hasids began. In fact, many secs of EDS that we have today are named after the towns and cities in Ukraine, whether it's bells or Trina or breast love, each one started by another either student or student of the Ceto students, whether it was the Mo of mere of dove bear or RO Salman of li who was known as the Al Rebi, who started the Luba Habad sec of Hasid. In fact, the most recent Loba Rebi was actually born in Ukraine as well.
There's sort of knock one of breast love who started the breast love court of Hasidis. And he today is buried in the city of Uman in Ukraine, where today tens of thousands of Jews flock there for Rashana and many more including ones that my family belonged to the Z cha and Cherno lines. At the time the bacheta introduced Haid. It was somewhat controversial. And we had Jews who were in groups called snog, them who were against Haid. And the reality is that over time the lines have blurred and we cannot deny the tremendous impact that Hasids has had on the Jewish people. And that it continues having on the Jewish people today, all of which was born in Ukraine, our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Ukraine and their leader. And we hope for a world in which there is no war, only peace.