Jewish leaders rally behind Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy – Press Enterprise

Rabbi David Wolpe of the Sinai Los Angeles Temple said the world was looking for a hero. And he’s amazingly popped up in the most unlikely of places – while the entire planet is watching.

In recent weeks, Wolpe and other Jewish leaders claim, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has provided these heroes. And now they only pray that he can survive in the midst of a brutal international crisis.

“It is amazing and remarkable for Jews to see a Jewish President not only as the President of Ukraine, but as a symbol of courage and rebellion against a tyrant, especially the tyrant who in many ways represents Soviet tyranny – under which too the Jews suffered,” Wolpe said.

Jewish leaders in Southern California and beyond have rallied around Zelenskyy, praising the former television actor and comedian for his strength and resilience amid relentless Russian onslaught.

That was not always so. Just two months ago, Zelenskyi was rated by Ukrainians with a humiliating 31% approval rating, with many questioning their new leader’s ability to handle a serious crisis.

But as Russia launched its unprecedented assault by land, air and sea – the largest such attack in Europe since World War II – Zelenskyy has been hailed by some over the past two weeks as a steadfast war leader uniting his once politically divided country Has. Some even draw parallels to Winston Churchill.

Zelenskyy’s approval rating among his citizens has now risen to over 90 percent.

When he addressed the European Parliament last week on his country’s efforts to repel the invasion, Zelenskyi drew a standing ovation. As he told the European Parliament, “We are only fighting for our country and our freedom,” the translator fought not to cry.

His personality has changed amidst his nation’s brawls. Once dapper in a suit and tie, in his live broadcast to Europeans he was unshaven and gaunt, sporting a drab military T-shirt and a Ukrainian flag at his side.

“Our people are very motivated, very motivated, we are fighting for our rights, for our freedoms, for our lives,” Zelenskyy said. “And now we’re fighting to survive, and that’s our highest motivation.”

Zelensky’s efforts have particularly resonated with his Jewish fellow citizens.

“He’s definitely a hero,” said Dina Gotar, a Jew from former Soviet Union Uinon who came to the United States as a refugee when she was 13. She now lives in Encino.

“He brought the country together and brought the people together,” Gotar said. “You have great pride. The people of Ukraine are proud to have such a strong leader.”

Jewish clergy have focused on Zelenskyy during their recent services. He was peppered with praise on social media. Countless fundraising campaigns have also been launched to give Ukrainians a boost.

Zelenskyy himself has specifically addressed his Jewish colleagues around the world.

When Russian forces bombed near Babyn Yar, the site near Kyiv where thousands of Jews were executed by Nazis during World War II, Zelenskyy appealed to the world’s Jewish diaspora.

“What’s the point of saying, ‘Never again, for 80 years, the world is silent when a bomb falls on the same place of Babyn Yar? At least five were killed. History repeats itself (itself).”

Rabbi Wolpe — a figure admired among Jews who has previously taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, Hunter College and UCLA — said Jews are hard to sell and not always ready to engage in political hero worship.

The Jewish community is slow to trust politicians and authority figures — because “we’ve been betrayed so many times by all kinds of authority figures, including the clergy, including the judiciary, including everyone,” he said.

But Zelenskyy earned her trust — and her pride. “This man is a hero and we are proud of him,” he said.

Zelenskyi himself was beaten by his people for not responding quickly enough to political reforms and for what some saw as a contradictory relationship with the Russians. But now, in the worst of times, he stayed to face them head-on. And he says he’s not going anywhere.

When offered a rescue, he delivered his iconic line and replied that he needed ammo, “no ride”.

Zelenskyy grew up in the Russian-speaking town of Kryvyi Rih in southeastern Ukraine. His grandfather served in World War II and several of his relatives perished in the Holocaust.

When the Soviet Union collapsed and many of his relatives immigrated to the United States and Israel, his parents decided to stay in Ukraine. After studying law at the Kyiv National Economic University, a mediocre student once became an actor and comedian before running for the presidency and unexpectedly winning the election.

One of Zelenskyy’s most famous roles during his acting career was that of a school teacher who got tired of political corruption and unexpectedly became President of Ukraine.

In his 2020 Times of Israel interview, Zelenskyy said he grew up in an “ordinary Soviet Jewish” family that was not religious because there was no religion in the Soviet Union.

Nevertheless, studies show that Ukraine is one of the most hospitable European countries for Jews.

A 2019 Pew Research Center poll found that 5% of Ukrainians were unwilling to accept Jews. This figure was 18% in Poland, 19% in Czechs and 22% in Romania.


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