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United Jewish Community of Ukraine

Created as an all-encompassing umbrella organization in April 1999, the United Jewish Community of Ukraine (Ob”edinennaia Evreiskaia Obshchina Ukrainy; OEOU) aimed to serve as the “political wing” of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress (Vseukrainskii Evreiskii Kongress; VEK). The latter was founded in April 1997 by a group of wealthy Ukrainian Jewish businessmen, led by Vadim Rabinovich and supported by Reuven Asman, a Lubavitch leader in Kiev.

VEK’s second congress brought together representatives of the remaining Ukrainian umbrella organizations, including the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine (or VAAD of Ukraine; Assotsiatsiia Evreiskikh Organizatsii i Obshchin Ukrainy), the Union of Jewish Religious Organizations of Ukraine (Ob”edinenie Iudeiskikh Religioznykh Organizatsii Ukrainy; OIROU), and the Jewish Council of Ukraine (Evreiskii Sovet Ukrainy; ESU). In addition, more than 130 actively functioning Jewish organizations and a variety of political groups were in attendance. Because the congress was markedly non-Zionist in orientation, giving priority to what were termed “local” Jewish interests, representatives of the most important foreign Jewish organizations did not take part. Among the absentees were the Social Welfare Funds and Community Centers sponsored by the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the schools subsidized by the Israeli Ministry of Education.

VEK failed to become the generally recognized nucleus of a unified Ukrainian Jewish community. The organization experienced political struggles both within its ranks and with other organizations, which thrust it into a severe crisis. As a result, VAAD of Ukraine and the OIROU formally withdrew from VEK in April 1998, followed later by the ESU and several other organizations. In the aftermath, these groups declared their intention to create a Jewish Confederation of Ukraine.

For their part, the leaders of VEK, including representatives of a number of local organizations that supported Rabinovich plus the representatives of several national organizations, including the Maccabi sports association, the Jewish Fund of Ukraine, the Hillel organization for college students, and a few others, met together in January 1999 in Kiev to map out their future. They created the Coordinating Council of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, headed by Rabinovich. The creation of the new organization, intended as “the only representative of Ukrainian Jewry in the international arena,” was approved by a congress convened by VEK in April 1999 in Kiev. More than 1,000 delegates from 242 Ukrainian Jewish organizations attended.

Infrastructure for the OEOU was provided by pro-Rabinovich organizations that had been granted the status of VEK regional departments. The All-Ukrainian Jewish Community Center also operated under the aegis of VEK/OEOU; it began a whole series of projects in support of Jewish social, professional, and religious bodies, the most important of which involved the Brody Synagogue in Kiev. The VEK/OEOU also sponsored welfare, educational, youth, sports, information, memorial, cultural, and antidefamation programs. All these activities were financed by funds raised by Rabinovich and other influential Ukrainian Jewish businessmen and politicians who joined the VEK leadership.

Another VEK congress was called for October 2004 in Kiev. Its purpose was not only to define the organization’s political position on the eve of the upcoming critical presidential elections in Ukraine, but also to institute a plan with the goal of overcoming “the split in the Ukrainian Jewish movement.” Despite the impressive size of the gathering (about 2,000 delegates from all over Ukraine), not one of the umbrella organizations competing with VEK took part, nor did representatives of the highly influential Lubavitch movement. Consequently, the achievement of Jewish unity in Ukraine remained a task for the future.

Suggested Reading

Vladimir (Ze’ev) Khanin, “Perestroika and Jewish Cultural Associations in Ukraine, 1987–1991,” Jews in Eastern Europe 42 (Fall 2000): 5–24; Vladimir (Ze’ev) Khanin, “Money and Politics: Notes on the Revival of Jewish Communities in Post-Communist Ukraine,” Shevut: Studies in Russian and East European Jewish History and Culture 25 (2000): 205–220.



Translated from Russian by I. Michael Aronson