My great-great-grandfather, Shmuel Landesman z”l (pictured above), is buried in Lviv, Ukraine. Records indicate that he died in 1894. Yesterday, for the first time since WWII, air raid sirens sounded throughout Lviv as Russia attacked the city and the entire nation of Ukraine. Growing up, Shmuel’s grandson, my grandfather Louis Landesman z”l, taught me that his family came from the Russian Pale, a region of Eastern Europe under the control of the Russian Empire that included modern-day Ukraine. At the end of the 1800’s, the Pale was home to approximately 95% of the 5.3 million Jews who lived in Russia and it was a brutal place for these millions of Jews to call home. The violence that plagued Jews in the Pale is captured in Fiddler on the Roof, which was inspired by the stories of Sholem Aleichem who lived in the region in the late 1800’s. Known as pograms, the violence in the Pale included non-Jews beating, raping and murdering their Jewish neighbors, looting Jewish stores and homes and destroyed Jewish property. It was this violence that led Shmuel’s wife, my great-great-grandmother, Feige Landesman z”l and many of her children, including my great-grandfather, Nathan Landesman z”l, to leave Eastern Europe and move to America.
The Holocaust decimated the Jewish community in the Pale. In September 1941, at Babi Yar, a ravine outside of Kyiv, 34,000 Jews were slaughtered in just one week by the Nazis. In the Ukraine, 60% of the Jews living in the region prior to WWII, 1.5 million people, were murdered by the Nazis. Despite this destruction, the Ukrainian Jewish community still lives. There are approximately 43,000 Jews in the country and another 200,000 who have a Jewish family member, making them eligible to immigrate to Israel according to the Law of Return. These Jews need our help as Russia, once again, torments them along with their non-Jewish Ukrainian neighbors. To help the Ukrainian Jewish community, please join the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Emergency in Ukraine Campaign by clicking here.
Putin claims that his assault on the Ukraine is an effort to bring about the “denazification” of the country.  The fact that the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish (he lost family members in the Holocaust) highlights the propaganda Putin is spewing to justify his demented attempt to rebuild the “greatness” of Russia. There is no greatness to rebuild. The experiences of my family and so many of your families teach us this.
Today, it is not just the Jews of the Ukraine who face the rath of Russian forces, it is anyone who does not pledge allegiance to Putin. President Volodymyr Zelensky is, as he himself says, Putin’s number one target. While his being Jewish certainly does not help him, his role as the leader of Ukraine is the primary reason he is in grave danger. As the great-great-grandson of Shmuel Landesman, buried in the Ukraine, as a descendant of Jews from that region, my “Ukrainian DNA” was overwhelmed to hear Zelensky, a Jew, stand before the world yesterday and call out global leaders for being afraid to stand up to Russia. Zelensky made it clear that he is not afraid. “We are not afraid of anything. We are not afraid to defend our country. We are not afraid of Russia.”
Zelensky is living the threat of Russia. He warned of this threat just a few days ago at the Munich Security Conference where he told world leaders: “It was here 15 years ago that Russia announced its intention to challenge global security…What did the world say? Appeasement. Result? At least the annexation of Crimea and aggression against my state.” This aggression began in 2014 and has resulted in more than 50,000 casualities and 1.5 million displaced people. Unfortunately, President Biden, “like every administration since the end of the Cold War,” reports Alexader Vindman (a global security expert who was denounced by President Trump for testifying against him during his impeachment trial) “fell victim to wishful thinking” about Russia and Putin’s intentions. “In doing so, the Biden administration continued the decades-long practice of allowing deterrence to erode. The paths to prevention were not taken.”
In 2012, many laughed as Mitt Romney, who at that time was the Republican presidential nominee, told us that “Russia, this is, without question, our number one geopolitical foe.” We are not laughing now. We are realizing how quickly we forget and how easily we allow the nightmares of history to repeat themselves. My “Ukrainian DNA” does not allow me to forget. The legacy of my great-great-grandfather, buried outside of Lviv, does not allow me to forget. Many of you have not been able to forget either. But, let’s face it, the world did forget and now Russia is attacking the Ukraine and the world is waking up to the reality that Putin is extremely dangerous. I pray that President Biden and other global leaders are able to work quickly to resolve this nightmare. As they do so, all of us must do whatever we can to help the people of the Ukraine as, once again, those who call that region home are tormented by violence and war.

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