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‘Wake up’: Ukraine urges Israel to aid Odesa’s Jews as Russia pounds city

Ukraine’s embassy in Israel on Friday called for the government to provide assistance to Odesa’s Jewish community with the city increasingly targeted by Russian attacks.

Russia has been pounding Odesa and the surrounding region since Moscow withdrew from a grain deal last month that allowed Kyiv’s grain exports via the Black Sea to continue despite the war.

Last week, the offices of Hillel International, the Jewish campus life organization, suffered damage in a missile attack.

“The Jewish community in Odesa continues to suffer significantly from Russian attacks — the Israeli government must wake up!” the embassy said in a statement, urging Israel “not to abandon your community in its time of need.”

“Like all citizens of Odesa, the Jewish community is also impacted significantly by these attacks. Despite the dire situation, community leaders continue to courageously guide their people, recognizing that the education of their children cannot be halted,” the embassy said.

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Odesa rabbi Abraham Wolf was quoted by the embassy as calling the city’s Jewish community “a beacon of hope” due to its “resilience and unity.”

“Amidst the rubble and fear, we continue to fortify our institutions, nourish our people, and educate our youth. For we know that in such times of crisis, we are not merely survivors but bearers of hope and continuity,” Wolf said, according to the statement.

File: Hillel International’s office after it was bombed by a Russian missile in Odesa, Ukraine, July 23, 2023. (Facebook video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Odesa had one of Europe’s largest concentrations of Jews, who made up around one-quarter of the population before a series of pogroms in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, has at times used the threat of damage to Ukrainian Jewish sites to rally world Jews to the war effort.

Israel has supported pro-Ukraine measures in the United Nations, including a non-binding resolution on the first anniversary of the war that calls for Russia to end hostilities in Ukraine and withdraw its forces.

However, unlike its Western allies, it has stopped short of providing military aid to Ukraine despite the latter’s repeated requests. While providing humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, Israel has maintained a strict policy of not providing military aid, including systems that could help it intercept Russian missile and drone attacks.

It is, however, working with the Ukrainians on a missile alert system, based on its knowledge after years of rocket attacks.

The reasoning behind the decision not to supply arms is believed to be Israel’s strategic need to maintain freedom of operation in Syria, where the airspace is largely controlled by Russia. Israeli officials have also expressed fear that advanced military technology could fall into enemy hands and cited production and supply limitations.

This photo provided by regional Governor Oleh Kiper shows the site of a drone attack in the Odesa region, Ukraine, August 2, 2023. (Telegram Channel of Odesa Region Governor Oleh Kiper via AP)

Russia on Wednesday struck a grain elevator in the port of Izmail, in the Odesa region, damaging silos, warehouses, and administrative buildings, Kyiv said.

Izmail is now the main export route for Ukrainian agricultural products via Romania, following Russia’s withdrawal from the grain deal.

The deal had allowed around 33 million tonnes of grain to leave Ukrainian ports, easing fears of global food shortages after the start of the conflict.

The seaports in the Odesa region were a key hub for grain exports that were granted safe passage under the deal.

A missile strike also severely damaged the cherished Transfiguration Cathedral in the city last week.