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Jewish Confederation of Ukraine

Established in 1999, the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine (Evreiskaia konfederatsiia Ukrainy; EKU) is an association of national, regional, and local organizations with a focus on “philanthropy, the reconstruction of the Jewish national way of life, and the support of humanitarian values.” It was set up by four umbrella organizations: the Union of Jewish Religious Organizations of Ukraine (Ob”edinenie Iudeiskikh Religioznykh Organizatsii Ukrainy; OIROU), the Society for Jewish Culture / Jewish Council of Ukraine (Obshchestvo Evreiskoi Kultury / Evreiskii Sovet Ukrainy; ESU), the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities-VAAD of Ukraine (Assotsiatsiia Evreiskikh Organizatsii i Obshchin–VAAD Ukrainy; VAAD-AEOOU), and the Kiev City Jewish Community.

The ESU was formed in October 1992 at a meeting convened by several Jewish groups that had formed under Gorbachev’s perestroika and were now becoming obsolete; these included the various Societies for Jewish Culture and a number of philanthropic and historical-memorial organizations. Il’ia Levitas, who chaired the national Society for Jewish Culture, became the head of the ESU. The new organization followed a non-Zionist model of Jewish cultural revival. The founders expected the organization to become a kind of “quasi-governmental” association that would mediate between the authorities and the Jewish population of Ukraine.

VAAD-AEOOU, founded in May 1991 by Jewish-rights advocates and activists from the late Soviet-period underground Zionist movement, believed, by contrast, that the Ukrainian Jewish community should not seek affiliation with the Ukrainian government; its members thought that Ukrainian Jewish life should have a specifically national, not merely cultural, character. From its founding, VAAD was headed by the well-known dissident Iosif Zissels. It claimed to represent more than 200 organizations in 90 Ukrainian towns.

Further complicating Jewish politics in Ukraine during the 1990s were the activities of various Jewish religious organizations. These were led by rabbis, mostly from Israel and the United States, who headed officially recognized Jewish communities in a large number of towns. Their organization, the OIROU, was founded in 1993 as an umbrella religious structure. It was headed by Yaakov Dov Bleich, chief rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine. From the moment of its creation the organization sought the political leadership of Jewish public life.

The intense ideological and political quarrels among the several umbrella organizations reached their peak in 1992, subsiding, by the middle of the decade, into a search for compromise. This change followed the slowing of Jewish emigration and the shift of local and international Jewish organizations to long-term communal planning. An attempt in April 1997 to unite the national Jewish umbrella organizations into an All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress (Vseukrainskii Evreiskii Kongres; VEK) proved unsuccessful.

In February 1999 the leaders of the national organizations, in cooperation with the leadership of the Kiev City Jewish Community, tried again. The Jewish Confederation of Ukraine (EKU) was founded formally in April 1999 at a meeting attended by the representatives of 294 Jewish groups. The language of EKU’s charter concentrated power in the hands of a small group of influential Ukrainian Jewish businessmen, politicians, and leaders of the Confederation’s founding organizations.

The EKU instituted projects to promote Jewish education and culture, develop leadership, and alleviate poverty; it supported a number of publications, including the newspaper Evreiskii obozrevatel’ (Jewish Observer). However, EKU never realized its promise to mobilize organizational and financial resources in support of member organizations. Latent disagreements within the EKU’s leadership expanded into an open conflict in the fall of 2002 around a multimillion dollar project to build a “Jewish heritage” community center in the area of Babi Yar. Broad segments of the Jewish and Ukrainian public were drawn into this dispute, the biggest in the local Jewish community since 1992; it culminated in the withdrawal of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine from the EKU.

Suggested Reading

Vladimir (Ze’ev) Khanin, “The Postcommunist Order, Public Opinion and the Jewish Community of Independent Ukraine,” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 23.1–2 (1999): 85–108; Vladimir (Ze’ev) Khanin, “Institutionalization of the Post-Communist Jewish Movement: Organizational Structures, Ruling Elites and Political Conflicts,” Jewish Political Studies Review 14.1–2 (2002): 5–28.



Translated from Russian by I. Michael Aronson