Good News, vol. 17, no.2, Feb 1926
"OUR BROTHERS IN THE UKRAINE."
"And ye shall rejoice before the Lord."
Coming, as it does, after the solemnity of the High Festivals, the Feast of Succoth speaks to us with joyous voice. As on the High Festivals we are called to serious reflection, so on Succoth we are bidden to rejoice and be happy, "and ye shall rejoice before the Lord."
Apart from our personal relaxation and pleasure, there is a spiritual reason for our rejoicing. The Succah, with its frail covering of boughs, calls once again to our minds how our ancestors fared amid the privations and dangers of the wilderness in the days of long ago. The people of Israel, not long since freed from the slavery of Egypt, found themselves in the vast trackless desert, without food or shelter. They had left the comparative plenty of Egypt behind, and now it seemed that they must wander devoid of all that man required for his daily sustenance. The fierce rays of the Eastern sun burned them by day. The gloomy dangers of the vast expanse consumed them at night. What help could they hope for in that uninhabited land? Whence could they procure food and shelter? How could they provide for their wives and tittle ones? But God never forgets the smallest of His creatures. For their hunger He provided the manna from heaven; for their thirst He caused to gush forth the Beir, the well, the spring which never ran dry. Against the heat of the sun's rays and the dangers of the night He set "the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night." With such Divine protection Israel had nought to fear. The prospect before them was no longer gloomy, foreboding evil, but a hope born of faith urged them forward to the land of promise.
It is this idea of Divine protection which the Succah impresses on us when we are commanded for one week to leave our comfortable dwellings and take up our abode in the frail, leafy arbors of our Succah. We realise how secure we are beneath the shadow of God's protection, and as our gratitude fills our hearts we fear no evil, for God is with us, and we greet the beautiful festival with hearts aglow with joy.
But there are those among our people whom circumstance has overpowered, and who, through grief and suffering too deep for words, have completely lost the power to rejoice. We have recalled the story of ancient Israel and its wanderings under God's protection, and the wise leadership of Moses, but there is a story of Israel in modern times—aye, at this very day—which parallels the Exodus in some details, but which stands out much more vividly by contrast. It is a story we have not recounted, but it is a story which it is our duty to tell. It is a story of the wandering of Israel, but so far without the Geullah, the redemption, the freedom, the hope. Once again the victims are the Hebrews—and the story is the tragedy of our brothers in the Ukraine. The painting on the canvas is but half finished, but the picture is clear enough to stir the heart and the sympathy even of the coldest and most indifferent.
Hundreds, nay, tens of thousands, of our brothers to-day are suffering starvation, want, persecution, and unspeakable evil, day and night, amid the snow of Russia. Gaze at the picture! See the poor mother, clad in thin garments hardly worthy of the name of clothing, bare-headed and bare-footed, her babe at her breast, and her little ones clinging to her ragged skirts crying for bread which long since she has been unable to procure for them. Driven from her village, torn from her husband and sons, fearsome for the honor of her daughters and even her own purity, she must tramp, footsore and weary, over miles and miles of broken ground, harried from town to town, from village to village, sleeping when she can, with the hard ground for her couch, and the heavens for her covering behind her, bent with years, and weighed down with sorrow greater than he can bear, weakened by want and prostrate with grief and weeping, stumbles and totters her old father. A crust begged by the way is then-food; a curse and a blow their only welcome; God's mercy and death their only hope.
Multiply this scene by tens of thousands, and you will behold a picture of the life—if it can be called life—which our Jewish brothers and sisters are leading to-day in the Ukraine. Like Israel of old, they, too, have been driven out in haste from their homes, but, unlike them, these modern pilgrims have been torn from their men and sent away with their old and their feeble and then little ones to suffer together the cruelties of the wanderer. No gifts of gold and silver have been showered upon them. The only showers they know are the blows of their oppressors and the rain and the snow. Israel in Egypt had some provision for the way, and knew that their wandering was to end when they reached the Holy Land, a land of promise, a land flowing with milk and honey. But Israel in the Ukraine has had even what scanty provision it could make stolen by the way. Their wandering is involuntary, leading God alone knows whither, wandering God alone knows how long. With no bright promise to bear them up, no goal nor aim to endeavor to reach.
To whom shall they turn, after God, if not to us, their blood brothers, for succour and aid? "The voice of the blood of our brothers and sisters cries unto us from the ground." The cry of their pain and their misery rings in our ears, calling upon us to be up and doing our duty towards them. I have not told you this tale of suffering and sorrow in order to harrow your feelings and rend your hearts. My description is as but one stroke of the brush com¬pared with the real picture. Let me read you the words of an unbiassed non-Jewish writer, published not long ago in one of the leading European papers. He says:—
"And in vast tracts of Europe there remains, always, a hatred which, every now and then, becomes a pogrom. In the Ukraine, in the first few years of peace, there were 2000 separate and distinct pogroms, large and small. Over a quarter of a million Jews in that country were murdered in that time, countless others were cruelly maimed, and nearly every Jewish woman in the land was violated. Practically all the 3,500,000 Jews alive in that area were homeless when the last news came, starving, naked, and ill. The Japanese earthquake was a joke beside this horror. And it is still going on, unknown to almost all the world, scarcely written about."
These are the cold, hard facts, told us by one who knows.
If we only will, all of us, and we can, give generously to them, we shall erect for them an everlasting Succah, an indestructible protection, which will enable them in the future to celebrate this happy festival with gladness, and we ourselves will find greater happiness in the knowledge of a good and merciful act. Then all Israel will be able to fulfil the command, "And ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God." A new heart and a new spirit will revive their souls when they learn that their own brothers have not failed them in the hour of their dire need, and they will hearken once again, with a fresh courage born of hope, to the glorious promise of God: "But fear thou not, oh, my servant Jacob, and be not dismayed, oh Israel; for behold I will save thee from afar off, and thy seed from the land of their captivity. And Jacob shall return, and be at ease, and none shall make him afraid. Fear thou not, oh, my servant Jacob, saith the Lord, for I am with thee." Amen.—"The Aust. Jewish Herald."
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"And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever."
—Daniel 12: 3.