War in Ukraine: Yeshiva University Does Its Part

This post brings together some of the efforts Yeshiva University has made to explain and analyze the current war in Ukraine and do its part the end the atrocities.


Ukraine Under Attack: The YU Community Comes Together

By Erica Sultan
Research Fellow
Rabbi Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs

ukraine yeshiva university
Dr. Ronnie Perelis moderates the panel discussion on the war in Ukraine.

On Monday, Feb. 28. 2022, Yeshiva University students, faculty and staff, and the wider YU community joined a roundtable discussion by historians and political scientists to discuss the horrifying current events taking place in Europe. The panel was sponsored by the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs, Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies and Emil A. and Jenny Fish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, along with student-run clubs: Yeshiva University Political Action Club, Dunner Politcal Science Society, Yeshiva University College Democrats and Yeshiva University College Republicans.

The expert panel included Dr. Joshua Karlip (associate professor of Jewish history, the Herbert S. and Naomi Denenberg Associate Professor of Jewish History and associate director of the Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies), Dr. Jess Olson (associate professor of Jewish history), Dr. Shay Pilnik (director, Fish Center), Dina Shvetsov (adjunct professor in the Political Science Department), Dr. Maria Zaitseva (clinical assistant professor in the Political Science Department), and Dr. Joshua Zimmerman (Eli and Diana Zborowski Professional Chair in Holocaust Studies and Eastern European Jewish History).

Together, they shared their views on the crisis occurring in Ukraine and then answered audience questions. The panel was introduced by Dr. Ronnie Perelis (Chief Rabbi Dr. Isaac Abraham and Jelena (Rachel) Alcalay Chair, associate professor of Sephardic Studies at Bernard Revel Graduate and director of the Schneier Program) , and opening remarks were made by Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University.

Dr. Berman solemnly stated, “War is a learned action… What made this past period, from World War II to today, so different is that there was a time when we didn’t see this … a war of attack, sovereign state against sovereign state, in Europe. We thought that the learned act was rooted out. And what makes this event so fearful is that it cripples our sense of stability. … One of the things we’re so concerned about is what does this trigger?”

Dr. Perelis added that “Ukraine raises existential questions for all of us and that is why it was important to come together. During times of crisis and confusion, the University must create a space of insight, understanding and dialogue.”

With these thoughts looming in the minds of the more than 280 people in the Zoom audience, the panelists spent the next hour and a half sharing insights, context and predictions.

For instance, several wanted to know what this war meant for other nations with revanchist goals, such as China’s desire to annex Taiwan. Prof. Shvetsov gave a grave answer: “If Russia takes Ukraine, what this will mean for China is an absolute win… China gets to fully exploit the political precedence that Russia is setting.”

The event concluded with remarks by the renowned Rabbi Arthur Schneier: “We have a humanitarian crisis [and] our most critical ambition has to be a ceasefire [and] whatever we can do on the humanitarian basis to be bridge builders is in our self interest. This is why we have the idea in Judaism, kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh, all of us are dependent on one another.”

Back to top


War by Other Means: The Legal, Cyber and Economic Fronts in the War in Ukraine

On Wednesday, March 9, 2022, 95 people attended the second in the series of Ukraine workshops hosted by Yeshiva University. (The first one, “Ukraine Under Attack: The YU Community Comes Together,” was on Feb. 28.)

Moderated by Dr. Ronnie Perelis, director of the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs, the evening featured opening remarks by Dr. Selma Botman, provost and vice president of academic affairs, and commentary on the economic, legal and cybersecurity challenges brought on by the war by Dr. James Kahn (Henry and Bertha Kressel University Professor of Economics; Chair, Department of Economics), Prof. Deborah Pearlstein (Professor of Law, Cardozo School of Law; Co-Director, Floersheimer Center for Constitutional Democracy) and Sivan Tehila (Program Director, M.S. in Cybersecurity, Katz School of Science and Health).

 

ukraine legal cyber economic

 

Dr. Perelis began the proceedings with an acknowledgement that “the shock and horror we experienced when we gathered last week has only become darker” but that events like these discussions, designed “to help us come together in search of insight and understanding and wisdom,” gave us the tools “to battle helplessness and to fight against apathy, to better understand the situation and see how we can help.”

Dr. Botman echoed Dr. Perelis’ sentiments, saying that “our hearts go out to the Ukrainians for the death and pain and destruction that they are experiencing” but also noting that the kinds of expertise represented on the panel “demonstrate the depth of the knowledge of our faculty” and their ability to “step up and help us understand this crisis.”

Each panelist then gave a quick summation of the most salient points about the economic, legal and technological challenges created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Dr. Kahn gave listeners a quick but thorough primer about the instruments available to policymakers during a time of conflict to inflict economic damage on an enemy, a practice, he pointed out, “as old as war itself.” Governments can use such tools as blockade, embargo, freezing and/or appropriating assets, and excluding Russia’s financial institutions from global payment systems to cause a liquidity crisis in the Russian economy, with the intent of making the war so economically painful that Putin will pull back of his own accord or the populace will be emboldened to push for political change to achieve an end to the war.

He also acknowledged that all these tactics have their downsides, what he called “spillovers,” such as higher oil prices or a default on debts, and that there can be real damage to the global economic system if the world’s 11th largest economy has a meltdown.

His conclusion is that sanctions could have an adverse impact on Russia (which he thinks they will be able to weather) but equally possible is that they will also cause significant harm to the integrated economies of the world.

On the legal front, specifically as it concerns the identification and prosecution of war crimes, Prof. Pearlstein noted while there are distinct definitions of what constitute war crimes enshrined in a number of treaties and resolutions, there are limited means to address them, which raises the question of how possible it will be to hold combatants accountable for criminal activities once the war ends.

She cited four possibilities: Ukraine’s own justice system; countries with statutes declaring that they have universal jurisdiction authority, such as Germany (but not the United States); the International Criminal Court (though the United States, Russia and Ukraine are not parties to the ICC); and a special tribunal (such as with Yugoslavia or Rwanda).

While each of these, or a combination of them, might do the job, her concern was whether the prospect of indictment and conviction would have any deterrence effect on Russia’s actions. She did not think so, but the prospect may have an inspiring effect on those opposing Putin. She admitted that “I think the conflict is likely to get worse before it gets better in terms of violence against civilians and that the best hope we have is to leverage the tools we have to persuade the persuadables among the Russian forces to avoid a life in prison. At a minimum, it will be exceedingly difficult for any of these individuals to travel anywhere outside Russia for the foreseeable future, not just because of sanctions but because of the very real threat of criminal prosecution.”

Russia’s cyber hacking efforts have been the focus of much news reporting in the past few weeks, and Sivan Tehila admitted that “the cyber front is fascinating, even for security professionals who have been working in the field for a while.” She explained how Russia has had a history of cyber attacks against Ukraine “well before there were tanks on the ground” and that observers are now seeing cyber becoming “one of the main fronts in this war.”

She also noted that, given this history, Russia, a “hacking superpower” (she named and described the three established groups that do the Kremlin’s cyber work), has been restrained in using cyber as a weapon in Ukraine. She is sure that the Russian government has targeted critical infrastructure, such as railways, airports and health care systems, “but that, for them, it is not the right time to use them because they have other decisions to make. Deciding on when to launch a cyberattack is usually much easier when you have everything ready.”

On the Ukrainian side, “there are thousands of tech workers who are now taking active part in the cyber attacks on Russia,” though they are not as organized as their Russian counterparts, and alongside them are groups like Cyber Partisans (based in Belarus) and Anonymous, the hacker collective that has declared its own war against Russia.

There are steps that businesses and individuals can take in light of the cyber war being waged to fortify themselves, and the advice is not much different than the advice people who work with computers should always follow. Businesses should develop business continuity and disaster recovery plans in case they are hacked or attacked by ransomware. The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (cisa.gov) has a program called “Shields Up” to help organizations work through these challenges.

Everyone regardless should also validate all remote access and ensure that VPNs (virtual private networks) are safeguarded. Initiate multifactor authentication, do periodic backups of vital information and respond to cyber attacks in real time to deny the ability of hackers to infect systems.

The evening ended with a brief Q&A about such topics as the role of tech companies in archiving material for possible criminal prosecutions even as they remove misinformation from their platforms, whether sanctions can achieve their goal of stopping the war, the outlook for war crime prosecutions, and how contributing to one of the many humanitarian aid organizations working to alleviate suffering can balance one’s despair and anguish.

 

Back to top


Ukraine: Past, Present, Future

ukraine past present futureOn Sunday, March 13, 2022, almost 1,200 participants had the privilege of joining a Zoom meeting with Ruslan Kavatsiuk, Deputy CEO of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (see their website for a full explanation of the plans for this project) and Natan Sharansky (who was born in Ukraine), Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center.

(Aleksander Kwasniewski, former president of Poland, had been scheduled to participate but had to decline because of a conflict.)

Kavatsiuk’s participation was especially poignant because he was reporting in from Ukraine. He and his family had had to escape from their home in a Kyiv suburb when the Russians began shelling the city.

“Ukraine: Past, Present, Future” was a collaborative initiative of the Emil A. and Jenny Fish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Center at Yeshiva University (Dr. Shay Pilnik, director) and the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, JewishGen, Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, Association of Holocaust Organizations, the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust and a multitude of other national and international organizations.

The meeting was moderated by Dr. Pilnik along with Mark Weitzman (COO for the World Jewish Restitution Organization) and Kelley Szany (vice president of education & exhibitions for Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center).

Dr. Pilnik began by welcoming people to the event and explaining that the purpose of today’s meeting “is to explore the war in Ukraine in a broad historical and geopolitical context [and to hear] an inside perspective about the war and gain a deeper insight into the situation in Ukraine, the future of Europe and, by extension, the future of the entire free world.”

Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University, opened the gathering by focusing on what he considered the key takeaway from the Purim story: when it comes to Jewish history, we know that in the end we will win, but the crucial task for Esther is not to save the Jews, who will find salvation, but for her to choose her part in the story that aligns with the deliverance of the Jewish nation, “to write herself into the story so that she will be remembered.”

The same is true for people now at this moment in history, a moment “that not just about the fate of the world but about the fate of ourselves: what will our role be in the story of humanity—in other words, how will we write ourselves into this story.” He noted that one of the gifts of a meeting like this is being in the presence of people like Ruslan Kavatsiuk, who has dedicated his life to the preservation of Jewish history, and Natan Sharansky, “perhaps the greatest example of someone with the moral clarity to respond to the call of history and encourage us all to respond to that same call.” Their words challenge us “to think about what our role is going to be in what is happening, and how are we going to help move the story forward in a positive and peaceful way with care and love and compassion, which is what our tradition is all about.”

Over the next hour, both Kavatsiuk and Sharansky, prompted by excellent questions from Weitzman and Szany, expressed their solidarity with the Ukrainian people, explained the context of this war from both a Jewish and geopolitical perspective, and called for everyone everywhere to do whatever they can to encourage the nations of the world to stand on the side of preserving freedom and the sovereignty of Ukraine.

As Kavatsiuk so forcefully stated, “Two and a half weeks ago we had a normal life. We did not do anything to provoke the Russian Federation to attack us, except that we are a free and democratic country. We are not victims, we don’t want to be victims; we want to be fighting for our country, and we will not give up. It is important to understand that the spirit of our people is very strong, and we do not need anyone fight in our stead. What we do need is for the world to react to what the Russian Federation is doing—this is not just Mr. Putin’s war. It is important to understand that and act on it.”

Sharansky shared this sentiment, responding to a question during the Q&A in this way: “What is the moment for which we exist now? This is a unique moment for the free world as well for the Jewish people, the kind of unique test where, for the rest of your life, you will come back to that moment and think whether you failed or you succeeded and how either has affected your life. I speak about this from my own personal experience.”

 

Back to top


Freedom, Human Rights and Jewish Values

In the fourth of a series of events where YU faculty bring their expertise to bear on the war in Ukraine, Rabbi Yosef Blau, Prof. Suzanne Last Stone and Dr. Joseph Luders spoke about “Freedom, Human Rights and Jewish Values: The War in Ukraine” on March 15, 2022, in a discussion introduced by Dr. Selma Botman, provost and vice president of academic affairs, and moderated by Dr. Ronnie Perelis, director of the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs.

 

freedom rights value ukraine
Clockwise: Dr. Selma Botman, Rabbi Yosef Blau, Dr. Joseph Luders, Dr. Ronnie Perelis, Prof. Suzanne Last Stone

 

Rabbi Yosef Blau is Mashgiach Ruchani [spiritual supervisor] of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary; Prof. Suzanne Last Stone is University Professor of Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law; Professor of Law; Director, Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization; and Dr. Joseph Luders is David and Ruth Gottesman Chair in Political Science; Associate Professor of Political Science; Chair, Department of Political Science.

In a wide-ranging discussion that lasted well over an hour, the three discussants spoke eloquently and knowingly about the ethical gantlet that the war in Ukraine has throw down to people of faith and good will.

All agreed that no one can justify the depredations visited upon the Ukranian people by the Russian army, many of whose actions can be considered war crimes. As Prof. Stone pointed out, “the way war is waged is important,” and the fact the Russians make it difficult, if not impossible, for civilians to leave the theater of war violates those aspects of Jewish law dealing with war that advocate for allowing people to leave the battlefield if they so choose and not be entrapped by the violence being visited upon them.

Prof. Stone even went so far as to promote several times during her remarks that along with the establishment of safe corridors for exit, countries should also carry out a humanitarian airlift, a point somewhat supported by Rabbi Blau, who noted that according to Jewish law and teachings, a situation like this calls upon Jews and non-Jews alike to protect the vulnerable, even if a price has to be paid. “We must accept our responsibility as citizens of society, accept the notion of human dignity and that humans have infinite value, that whoever saves one life saves the world—concerned about justice, concerned about caring for the weaker and the vulnerable. Both justice and compassion clearly come out on the same side.”

Dr. Luders took a different angle on this situation, noting that how a complacency about the resilience of democratic norms has allowed a process of erosion to undermine these norms and weaken them considerably, demonstrated not only in the United States by the events on Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C., but also in other countries around the world, where tribalism and autocracy threaten democratic rule.

Dr. Luders suggested that this erosion, coupled with the U.S. withdrawal from global leadership, led Putin to believe that he could undertake a war in Ukraine without any, or very little, collective action against him. But it seems, according to Dr. Luders, that “he misread the situation” and that the actions of Europe and NATO and other nations show that there is still a “reservoir of respect for democracy.” The challenge, he noted, is finding the balance between resisting Russia’s aggression without provoking responses and reactions “that would exceed our worst nightmares.”

Back to top


Elegy for Odessa

elegy odessa ukraine

The participants who attended the panel discussion on Monday, March 28, 2022, “Elegy for Odessa,” were treated to a two-hour master class on the literature, art, history and politics provoked by the city of Odessa, both the city as geographical reality and arena of dreams, as disputed territory and the forge of Jewish identities. As Dr. Val Vinokur described it, Ukraine is, at the same same time, then and now, a literal and metaphorical breadbasket and a crossroads of armies.

As Dr. Olson so eloquently put it, “Odessa’s modernity, its vision of building an opening to the larger world, runs very deeply in the dynamics of the city. Odessa was a place for Jews of newness, of exceptionalism, a cosmopolitan city at a time when cosmopolitanism in the Russian context was still developing, a place where a new Jewish man could rise in Russia while living in a jewel of a city on the Black Sea.”

The richness of this discussion was underscored by the knowledge of the dangers it faces from the current Russian invasion, and the encomiums paid by the panelists to its many depths and beauties only strengthened the resolve of those on the panel and in the virtual audience to do what they can do to save Odessa from demolition and Ukraine from disaster.

The Panelists:

Dr. Amelia Glaser

  • Associate Professor at University of California San Diego and an Endowed Chair in Judaic Studies
  • Research Interests: Russian Literature (19th and 20th Century); Modern Yiddish Literature; Comparative Literature; Cultural Studies; Transnational Jewish Literature; The Literatures of Ukraine.

Amelia Glaser received a BA from Oberlin College in Comparative Literature in1997, an MSt. from the University of Oxford in Yiddish in 2000, and a Ph.D in Comparative Literature from Stanford University in 2004. She held fellowships at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute and the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and was a lecturer in Jewish Studies and at the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at Stanford University before joining UCSD’s Literature Department in 2006. Her research and teaching interests include Russian literature and film, transnational Jewish literature, the literatures of Ukraine, the literature of immigration to the US, the Russian critical tradition, and translation theory and practice. She is currently writing about poetry and performance in contemporary Ukraine.


Dr. Val Vinokur

  • Associate Professor of Literary Studies at New School
  • Director of Jewish Culture (Minor)

Dr. Vinokur’s book, The Trace of Judaism: Dostoevsky, Babel, Mandelstam, Levinas, was published by Northwestern University Press and was a finalist for the 2009 AATSEEL Award for Best Book in Literary/Cultural Studies. His translation of Isaac Babel’s stories was published in 2017 by Northwestern University Press. He is the founding editor of Poets & Traitors Press and is the author of Relative Genitive: Poems, with Translations from Osip Mandelstam and Vladimir Mayakovsky. His other works includes translations and multiple publications in such works as Common Knowledge, The Boston Review, McSweeney’s, LitHub, The Russian Review, Zeek, The Massachusetts Review, Journal of Religion and Society, The Literary Review, and New American Writing.


Dr. Jacob Wisse

  • Associate Professor of Art History, Yeshiva University
  • Director, Yeshiva University Museum (2009–2020)

Dr. Wisse specializes in Jewish art and visual culture, as well as in northern European art of the Renaissance and early modern era. His book, City Painters in the Burgundian Netherlands, drew upon extensive firsthand documentation from municipal accounts and records to reconstruct the origins and development of the official city painter over the course of the fifteenth century. As the former director of the YU Museum, he guided its exhibitions and collections and its educational and public programs.


Dr. Tanya Yakovleva

Dr. Yakoleva has lived in Ukraine, Germany, Italy, and the United States. She studied Yiddish in Vilnius, New York, Tel-Aviv, and Moscow, and she received a Ph.D. in Slavic-Jewish Studies from the University of Regensburg, Germany. She studied Comparative Literature, Classical, Slavic, Jewish, and Media Studies at the universities of Kharkiv, Regensburg, Bari, and San Diego. She currently teaches for YAAANA (The Yiddish Arts and Academics Association of North America). She is currently writing a book about Odessa 1905 in Russian Jewish Literature.


Dr. Jess J. Olson (moderator)

  • Associate Professor of Jewish History

Dr. Olson is interested in questions of nationalism, religion, and Jewish identity in nineteenth and twentieth century Europe. His areas of research include the Jews of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany, history of Zionism and Jewish nationalism, and the intersection between Jewish Orthodoxy and political engagement. He has published Nathan Birnbaum and Jewish Modernity: Architect of Zionism, Yiddishism and Orthodoxy (Stanford University Press, 2013) along with multiple articles on all of these topics.


Dr. Selma Botman

  • Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Dr. Botman holds a B.Phil. in Middle Eastern studies from Oxford University and an M.A. in Middle Eastern studies and Ph.D. in history and Middle Eastern studies from Harvard University. A scholar of modern Middle Eastern politics and society, she has published three books and a number of scholarly articles. She has also taught a range of courses on the modern Middle East and international development.

Back to top


Trauma and Repair

The war in Ukraine has been top of mind for so many people in the YU community because of the many personal, professional and spiritual connections that the University has with that part of the world.

To help people find their footing as they react to the news coming out of Ukraine, the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs, with support from a number of YU-affiliated groups,* convened the fourth of a series of panel discussions bringing the academic expertise of Yeshiva University to bear on both understanding the war in Ukraine and promoting acts of chesed [charity] to bring it to an end.

“Psychologists and Social Workers Reflect on Trauma and Repair,” introduced by Dr. Selma Botman (provost and vice president for academic affairs) and moderated by Dr. Jess Olson (associate professor of Jewish history), brought together experts from the Wurzweiler School of Social Work and the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology to explain how trauma affects human beings in such extreme situations and what can be done to help them weather the attacks of trauma on the mind, soul and body.

  • Jordan Bate: Assistant Professor, Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology
  • Vera Békés: Assistant Professor, Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology
  • Nancy Beckerman, LCSW: Professor, Chair Advanced Clinical Practice, Director of Faculty Mentoring, Wurzweiler School of Social Work
  • Lisa Henshaw, LCSW: Assistant Professor, Chair Trauma Curriculum, Wurzweiler School of Social Work

Dr. Henshaw began by explaining that we should understand the word “trauma” to mean something “that presents a threat to one’s physical integrity and safety,” and that can include both actual events suffered firsthand as well as events experienced indirectly, such as hearing about an incident through the news.

Concerning the war in Ukraine, Dr. Henshaw characterized what people are undergoing as a complex collective trauma because it involves a series of heavy assaults happening over time coming from multiple directions with diverse effects—in short, a bombardment, both literal and figurative.

Dr. Henshaw also pointed that the historical and racial trauma endured by this region for centuries deepens the loss, grief and rage of the present moment, adding additional layers of complexity to what people, both individually and collectively, are being subjected to.

Social workers have to factor in all these aspects when diagnosing and treating the individual, knowing that the traumatic reactions can be triggered in varied ways ranging from the individual’s life narrative to the sociopolitical context, from biological needs to large-scale power dynamics. “It’s a balance to understand the implications of all these different nuances of trauma on an individual’s life as well as on the collective life of the community.”

Dr. Beckerman played off the context set up by Dr. Henshaw by focusing on war refugee trauma. She cited the staggering statistics about the number of people displaced from Ukraine as well as within the borders of the country itself, the majority of whom are women and children. “Refugee trauma speaks to a profound and at times incapacitating sense of loss,” Dr. Beckerman noted. “We can only imagine the toll that’s been taken by the forced separation from families, homes, and country and community of origin.”

What compounds the loss and all of its attendant anxiety and despair is when the abrupt shift from living a life regulated by routine and known quantities becomes stretched into the twilight of living in a refugee camp, living, as Dr. Beckerman described it, “with the existential unknown” while still experiencing “unspeakable and compounded loss.”

The work to be done by social workers, therapists and others has to be grounded in this knowledge so that the work they do is premised on efforts at social integration, establishment of a unified self-identity, mastery of language and resilience in the face of possible discrimination by others, just to name a few of the challenges.

Even as crucial, if not more so, is that in situations like living in a refugee camp, “families become trauma-organized systems, which means that all their patterns are related to the traumatic experience that they’ve been living through” and helpers must provide the space for “safe engagement,” which often means doing more listening than talking and allowing people to start the conversations and to follow their rhythms.

Dr. Vera Békés spoke about the short- and long-term psychological consequences, including moral injury and transgenerational trauma, and the power and presence of resilience. For her, “trauma is something that overwhelms the capacity of the individual to cope with a certain event,” which can have both immediate responses (e.g., anger, sadness, grief, self-blame, moral outrage) and delayed reactions (e.g., numbness, denial, living in survival mode and full-blown PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder).

It can also persist over time, both the time of an individual’s life but “also passed through to the next generations.”

It is also true, however, according to her research, that also over time, these trauma responses can lessen in intensity, demonstrating that many people can “bounce back,” which Dr. Békés considers the essence of resilience, “conceptualized as an ability to go back to pre-trauma levels of functioning.” Even more surprising in the research is that resilience, rather than being a rare thing, “is the most common reaction after experiencing traumatic events.”

All of which is to say that there are many “trajectories that people can follow” in response to traumatic events, and diagnosis and treatment need to be aware of these to be effective.

Dr. Jordan Bate, in her focus on the effects of war on children, noted that “psychologists, and more specifically psychoanalysis, have had a long history of engaging with the community, and particularly with children, in times of conflict and war.” She cited the work of Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham, who co-created the War Nurseries in and around London to care for children and families during the Blitz, and John Bowlby, who elaborated attachment theory when he observed that children sent from London to the countryside where they lived safely in foster homes “still suffered detrimental effects, not due to violence but due to the separation from their parents.”

She started with this background because their findings, and the body of research based on them, “are still really relevant when we talk about how children are impacted by war and how we can care for them.” In essence, children need, first, a primary caregiver who can be a “safe haven” and help them make sense of their experiences and, second, a home restored when events have stripped them of a home because, quoting Anna Freud, “home is the place to where all children are determined to return.”

In short, helping children survive trauma means doing what is needed “to support their attachment figures and their attachment network,” which, in turn, will “support their well-being and their overall quality of life.”

Given this, when the word “resilience” is used with children, it is less about individualistic traits, like emotional intelligence or cognitive coping strategies, and more about “considering the contexts that they are embedded in, namely their family and community” and working to make those strong enough to buoy the children.

In the context of war, “we need to focus on providing spaces where children and parents and communities can be children, parents and communities, where they can engage in recreation and connection and expression that doesn’t, especially for children, need to be talking. Being able to create and express themselves through art or writing or dance or theater or play are all really important resources for children to have.”

In the Q&A that followed, the discussion touched upon where people who want to help can direct their contributions, the importance of self-care for providers, the overlay of the Ukraine trauma on two years of COVID, how trauma is transferred across generations in both families and cultures, and trauma-informed teaching and education.

 

Back to top


Rabbi Avraham Wolff Speaks to YU from Odessa

rabbi wolff ukraine odessa
The faces of Rabbi Wolff

By Yedidya Schechter ’24YC

When my mother, Shoshana Schechter, was a student at Yeshiva University, she had the privilege to spearhead a program called YUSSR, where a handful of students went to different locations in Ukraine and Russia to assist Jews who needed help physically, emotionally and religiously. On that trip 30 years ago, she connected with Rabbi Avraham Wolff, who was the chabad shaliach [Chabad emissary] in Cherson, Ukraine, and ever since then, they have kept in touch.

On Tuesday, April 5, 2022, Rabbi Wolff, who is now the chief rabbi of southern Ukraine and the head of the Jewish community in Odessa, reconnected with my mother Shoshana Schechter at Yeshiva University as he spoke, by Zoom, to an audience that included dozens of students and Dr. Ari Berman, president of Yeshiva University, about conditions within the city and what he and many others are doing to keep people safe.

He has two primary efforts. The first has been to get as many people as he can to safer havens in surrounding countries; for example, he relocated an entire orphanage of children to Berlin (where his own family is taking shelter).

The second has been to give material, emotional and spiritual strength to the Jews still in the throes of war in Ukraine, such as taking care of the elderly not able to leave.

To explain why he is doing what he is doing, he told a story about his return trip from Berlin after bringing the children of the orphanage to safety.

When he went through customs heading back to Ukraine, the official in the booth asked him with astonishment, “What, are you crazy? Why are you going into Ukraine when everyone is trying to leave?” He explained to the official that “this is the mission of a rabbi and Jew, to take care of my people and my community, especially at such challenging times.”

He observed that one of the paradoxical effects of a war that has caused so much destruction and chaos is that it has brought the entire Jewish community together regardless of their affiliations or doctrines, as if all Jews were sitting down to participate in the same Pesach Seder. That same unity binds him and Yeshiva University as the University, though thousands of miles from him, has pledged to help his cause.

When asked why, in such dire times, he continues to show such a positive attitude about the conditions around him, he stated, “Putin may be able to take over cities and countries, but he can never take away my simchas hachaim [joy of life].”

Rabbi Wolff’s devotion, leadership, emunah [faith] and positivity inspired us tremendously, and we pray for him and all those who are living in these challenging times of fear and suffering. He is a tremendous inspiration and someone whose leadership and care we can all learn from.

Back to top


Dr. Joshua Zimmerman on the Antecedents of Conflict in Ukraine

Dr. Joshua Zimmerman

Dr. Joshua Zimmerman, Eli and Diana Zborowski Professorial Chair in Holocaust Studies and East European Jewish History and a professor of history, has published an article in Englesberg Ideas that very much resonates with today’s news about possible conflict in Ukraine between NATO and Russia.

Titled “The 1920 Battle for Ukraine — a warning from the past,” Dr. Zimmerman notes that “having practically saved Europe from a communist takeover, Poland’s head of state Joseph Pilsudski’s insistence a century ago on a strong, independent Ukraine, protected by the Western democracies from Russian intimidation and threats, resonates powerfully today.”

 

zimmerman conflict ukraine
Bolshevik propaganda poster of Polish-Soviet war, 1920. Text reads: ‘This is how the Polish lords’ plan finishes. Long live Soviet Poland’. Credit: Stepan Mukharsky/Wikipedia Commons

 

Dr. Zimmerman is the author or editor of a number of works on the Holocaust, including Contested Memories. Poles and Jews during the Holocaust and Its Aftermath (2003) and The Polish Underground and the Jews, 1939–1945 (2015). His forthcoming book, Jozef Pilsudski. Founding Father of Modern Poland, comes out in May 2022 from Harvard University Press.

Back to top


Two Rabbis from Ukraine Tell Stories of Sacrifice and Heroism

By Herschel Hartz
Assistant Director, Office of Student Life

Rabbi Levi Raices and Rabbi Chaim Levinson from Chabad of Kharkov, Ukraine, where they have been working for almost 30 years, joined over 30 students and northern Manhattan community members at the Yeshiva University’s Shenk Synagogue on Wednesday, April 6, 2022, for a discussion on the situation in their beleaguered country. It was the first time since the war broke out that Ukrainian refugees and Jewish leaders joined Yeshiva students in-person on the Wilf campus.

 

raices levinson ukraine
(l-r): Chaim Levinson, Herschel Hartz, Levi Raices

The two rabbis shared stories of tremendous sacrifice and heroism, showing devotion to the continued operation of their Jewish community and the saving of human life.

While government offices were being bombed, they stayed in Ukraine to support their congregants in the observing of Jewish traditions and law, the distribution of food and in the organized exit of more than half of the community. Once the Russian bombing campaign extended to civilian homes and buildings, Rabbis Raices and Levinson, along with hundreds of others, fled to Western Ukraine and eventually to the United States.

On the eve of war, the Kharkov Jewish community celebrated the 30th year of its local Jewish school. The next morning, the bombing started. Shocked congregants refused to board buses to Western Ukraine, but Rabbis Raices and Levinson, as well as other community leaders, encouraged them to leave to save themselves and their families.

Rabbi Raices related how one of his congregants, a soldier in the Ukrainian army, broke into the synagogue during the middle of a Russian air strike to retrieve a pair of tefillin for a Bar Mitzvah boy, who Rabbi Raices had been working with in preparation of his Bar Mitzvah.

The boy’s mother spoke to Rabbi Raices via Zoom and shared photos of her son putting on tefillin, asking if it was being done correctly. Rabbi Raices was amazed by the mother’s devotion to Judaism, noting that many of his congregants are newcomers to Jewish religious observance. According to Jewish lore, G-d’s tefillin have written, “Who is like you, the Jewish people?” Rabbi Raices emotionally stated that he experienced this feeling himself, remarking that the Bar Mitzvah boy and his mother did all they could do in the midst of war to ensure tradition continued.

Back to top