Northern New York Newspapers
NNY Business
NNY Living
Sun., Oct. 4
Serving the community of Ogdensburg, New York
Related Stories

The Fiddler Is Still On The Roof


The New York Times ran this dispatch from the Ukrainian city of Donetsk: “Worshippers at the Bet Menakhem-Mendl synagogue ... confronted a horrifying scene as they left a Passover service this week: masked men on a sidewalk handing out leaflets demanding that Jews register and pay a fine or leave the area, witnesses said.”

Pinchas Vishedski, chief rabbi of Donetsk’s 15,000 Jews, later told Reuters that the leaflets were fake, “a crude provocation” aimed at stirring resentment against the pro-Russian militants who have taken over the city. The source of the notices remains obscure. But that’s not the point. The “horrifying scene” sent a sharp stab of pain and memory through Jews who trace their roots to Eastern Europe. Steve is one of them.

Anti-Semitism is an endemic element of life in that part of the world. Harassing Jews is as much a part of Russian culture as drinking vodka.

That’s why so many Jewish families like Steve’s fled the Russian Empire during the early part of the 20th century and emigrated westward.

Still, on the eve of World War II, Ukraine had 2.7 million Jews: a vibrant community that produced such luminaries as Golda Meir, later the prime minister of Israel, and Sholem Aleichem, the Yiddish writer who created Tevye the milkman, the central character in the popular musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”

The Holocaust decimated Ukraine’s Jewish population, and most of the survivors moved to Israel. Today there are only about 70,000 Jews left in the country, but even in such diminished numbers, they are easy objects of political scorn and scapegoating.

After the leaflet incident, Rabbi Vishedski pleaded, “I’m asking those behind this not to make us tools in this game.”

But both sides in the Ukrainian power struggle — pro-nationalists and pro-Russians — have shown a willingness to use Jews as “tools” when it suits their purpose.

“Anti-Semitism remains a feature of militant nationalism in both Ukraine and Russia,” Reuters reported from Donetsk. “During unrest that saw the overthrow of Kiev’s Kremlin-backed president in February, several attacks on Jews and synagogues were blamed on Ukrainian far-right groups.”

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation league, explained the historic origins of this impulse in USA Today: “Both classical political anti-Semitism and the manufactured manipulative version rely on a common assumption, that a significant number of Ukrainian citizens do not consider their Jewish compatriots to be truly part of the Ukrainian nation.”

(Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at

Commenting rules:
  1. Stick to the topic of the article/letter/editorial.
  2. When responding to issues raised by other commenters, do not engage in personal attacks or name-calling.
  3. Comments that include profanity/obscenities or are libelous in nature will be removed without warning.
Violators' commenting privileges may be revoked indefinitely. By commenting you agree to our full Terms of Use.
Syracuse Football Tickets Giveaway
Connect with Us
OGD on FacebookOGD on Twitter