KIEV, Ukraine (JTA) — A memorial to Holocaust victims was unveiled in a Ukrainian city whose mayor upset the Jewish community with anti-Semitic statements.
Rabbi Berel Lazar, chief rabbi of Russia, was among those who attended Monday’s ceremony in Uzhgorod, Transcarpathia at the site of a mass grave. Other rabbis, survivors, and area Jews and non-Jews also attended.
Lazar said he came to express his solidarity with the Jewish community of Uzhgorod following several xenophobic and anti-Semitic statements made in August by Mayor Sergey Ratushnyak.
Prosecutors charged Ratushnyak with inciting ethnic hatred for assailing presidential candidate Arseniy Yatsenyuk, attacking his Jewish background, and allegedly assaulting one of Yatsenyuk’s campaign workers on Aug. 6. The Jewish community filed a complaint, leading to an investigation.
“I understand that this is a hard time for the city’s Jewish community, you are shocked by the case, but Jews all over the world support you now,” Lazar said.
Lazar and local rabbis refused to comment on Ratushnyak’s statements, saying it was a political issue.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Moshe Moskovich, chief rabbi of Kharkov and region, said during a news conference Monday in Uzhgorod that the Jewish community of Ukraine is upset with the mayor’s statements and is waiting for Ratushnyak’s apology.
Lazar rejected an invitation from Ratushnyak to meet him to receive a city award.
“It is impossible to get an award from a person who outraged not only me but Jews all over the world," Lazar said. "It is impossible to get an award from the hands of a person who doesn’t respect you.”
The chief rabbi of Ukraine, Yaakov Bleich, told JTA that Lazar is always welcome in Ukraine but added that “anti-Semitism is more widespread in Russia than in Ukraine.”