Odessa Jews worry about spreading violence
The violence in Odessa, where dozens were killed over the weekend in clashes between pro-Russian and pro-government forces, has the city's 30,000 Jews on edge. Jewish leaders fear that the violence could take a turn and target their community. Accordingly they have come up with an evacuation plan in case violent anti-Semitism forces Jewss to flee the city.
While Jewish community leaders are unanimous in asserting that the violence is unconnected to the Jewish community and that they do not feel specially targeted, they agreed that, should the situation deteriorate, it would be easy for the spillover to affect their constituents.
According to Rabbi Refael Kruskal – the head of the Tikva organization, which runs a network of orphanages and schools and provides social services to the city’s elderly – several of the wounded from Friday’s clashes were Jews, and the community is taking all necessary precautions.
“Over the weekend we closed the [Great Choral] Synagogue,” Kruskal said. “We took all the students out of the center of the city where the violence was, because we were worried it was going to spread. We sent a text message to everybody in the community on WhatsApp that they should stay at home over the weekend.”
While the synagogue, which is located close to the site of Friday’s clashes, was reopened Sunday morning, Kruskal said he planned on closing it again later in the day.
The Jewish community, he added, is hunkering down and trying to ride out the storm.
“When there is shooting in the streets, the first plan is to take [the children] out of the center of the city,” Kruskal said. “If it gets worse, then we’ll take them out of the city. We have plans to take them both out of the city and even to a different country if necessary, plans which we prefer not to talk about which we have in place.”
Fearful of further “provocations” on Friday, which marks the anniversary of Soviet Russia’s victory over Germany in the Second World War, Kruskal said that he was considering renting a holiday camp to house 600 Jews away from the fighting he expects next week.
“The next weekend is going to be very violent,” he said.
While other communal leaders are more sanguine, all have evacuation plans in place.
Odessa has a bloody history of pogroms against Jews, as recently as 100 years ago.There has been a current of anti-Semitism running through contemporary Odessa as well.
To show how seriously Odessa Jews are taking the threat, the "Jewish community, together with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, has prepared a fleet of 70 buses, fueled and ready to go, “if, God forbid, we have to evacuate” the community’s children and any adults who want to leave."
Jewish leaders expect even worse violence next weekend when the 70th anniversary of the end of the war against the Nazis is commemorated.