July 8, 2024

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July 8, 2024

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Even While Fighting An Existential War, Israel Remains The Safest Country For Jews

Olivier Melnick Author

I grew up in France in a Jewish family that had survived the Holocaust and with a Great-grandmother who had fled the pogroms of Eastern Europe. Yaakov and Rachel Schimkowitz left Russia with very little, mainly to save their own lives from the looming pogroms that often came unannounced and destroyed much on their path.

I remember hearing members of my family speak of the Holocaust and the pogroms. Back then, I didn’t pay much attention due to my young age, but later on, once I realized what these words meant, I understood why they were a recurring topic in our family, just like in any other Jewish family. They described events that led to the destruction of many Jewish people. They were very traumatic, to the point of leaving a permanent psychological scar–and in some cases, physical scar–on our people.

Going back in history, about 90 percent of Russian Jews lived inside a geographical area known as the Pale of Settlement. It was a vast ghetto, growing from 1.6 million in 1820 to 5.6 million in 1910. The 1860s brought the Jewish communities of the Pale some privileges, but it was quickly reversed by the “May Laws” of 1882, restricting Jews to overcrowded urban areas.

Additionally, the pogroms (Russian for “devastation”) of the 1870s through the 1910s created a very hostile environment that exacerbated the miserable conditions in which the Jews lived. The first pogrom might have happened as early as 1821 in Odesa, Ukraine. The official reason given for the hundreds of subsequent pogroms was the assassination of Alexander II in 1880, for which some blamed the Jews. 
Pogroms were organized government-sponsored riots against the Jews, and they claimed the lives of many in the little Jewish shtetls (hamlets) of the Pale.

The pogroms and other boycotts and hardships led to the mass immigration of two million Jews to the United States from 1881 to 1914. The Haskalah “enlightenment,” seeking to modernize Judaism in the hope of better integration, also took place simultaneously. Eventually, the Pale of Settlement was dismantled in 1917 after the fall of the Russian Empire.

During the pogroms, the police either looked the other way or worse yet, they helped organize them AND participated in them. There was very little the Jewish people could do when they were caught in a pogrom. Fighting back was nearly impossible. Fleeing the scene to save one’s life was the only option, and this is precisely what my great-grandparents did, taking only a few family items with them.

No worries, pogroms are a thing of the past; the last one was over 100 years ago, right? Think again because we are seeing a resurgence of pogroms in 2024, especially since October 7, 2023, as if the carnage that took place in Israel wasn’t bad enough! The terrorist attack of October 7 was a pogrom. It was organized and focused, and it targeted Jews.

Then there was the Russian airport pogrom that took place in the highly Muslim region of Dagestan on October 29, 2023, when a mob of people rushed against Israeli passengers landing from Tel Aviv. This was a scary scene of out of control, full of rage, mostly men going throughout the airport and even trying to force doors of rooms where Jewish people had tried to shelter.

What about the recent attack in front of a synagogue in Los Angeles where Jewish people were physically assaulted by pro-Hamas thugs, was it a pogrom?

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines the word pogrom as follows: “a mob attack, either approved or condoned by authorities, against the persons and property of a religious, racial, or national minority.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum adds this: “The perpetrators of pogroms organized locally, sometimes with government and police encouragement. They raped and murdered their Jewish victims and looted their property.”

When a specific ethnic group like the Jews is targeted, harassed, and persecuted to the point of physical harm…it is a pogrom, and that was the case in Los Angeles.
But it goes even further when a Jewish family is kicked out of a restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam, for being Jewish. The shop owner yelled, “Get out of my shop. Out! Don’t sit there. My shop doesn’t accept people from your country.”

This is the new reality that our Jewish communities are facing today. Additionally, when the police are specifically told not to intervene, it is a form of organized decision that is also part of what defines a pogrom. Being a bystander is not a neutral position. It leads to helping the perpetrators. Holocaust survivor, author, and activist Elie Wiesel once said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.”

So, if it looks like a pogrom, sounds like a pogrom and hurts like a pogrom…It’s a pogrom! I find it very ironic that–Israel– the country that is fighting an existential war on several fronts, currently is the safest place for Jews because their government has their backs, which is not the case for Jews anywhere else in the world. It is not a conspiracy theory when they are really trying to hurt you.


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Olivier Melnick Author

I grew up in France in a Jewish family that had survived the Holocaust and with a Great-grandmother who had fled the pogroms of Eastern Europe. Yaakov and Rachel Schimkowitz left Russia with very little, mainly to save their own lives from the looming pogroms that often came unannounced and destroyed much on their path.

I remember hearing members of my family speak of the Holocaust and the pogroms. Back then, I didn’t pay much attention due to my young age, but later on, once I realized what these words meant, I understood why they were a recurring topic in our family, just like in any other Jewish family. They described events that led to the destruction of many Jewish people. They were very traumatic, to the point of leaving a permanent psychological scar–and in some cases, physical scar–on our people.

Going back in history, about 90 percent of Russian Jews lived inside a geographical area known as the Pale of Settlement. It was a vast ghetto, growing from 1.6 million in 1820 to 5.6 million in 1910. The 1860s brought the Jewish communities of the Pale some privileges, but it was quickly reversed by the “May Laws” of 1882, restricting Jews to overcrowded urban areas.

Additionally, the pogroms (Russian for “devastation”) of the 1870s through the 1910s created a very hostile environment that exacerbated the miserable conditions in which the Jews lived. The first pogrom might have happened as early as 1821 in Odesa, Ukraine. The official reason given for the hundreds of subsequent pogroms was the assassination of Alexander II in 1880, for which some blamed the Jews. 
Pogroms were organized government-sponsored riots against the Jews, and they claimed the lives of many in the little Jewish shtetls (hamlets) of the Pale.

The pogroms and other boycotts and hardships led to the mass immigration of two million Jews to the United States from 1881 to 1914. The Haskalah “enlightenment,” seeking to modernize Judaism in the hope of better integration, also took place simultaneously. Eventually, the Pale of Settlement was dismantled in 1917 after the fall of the Russian Empire.

During the pogroms, the police either looked the other way or worse yet, they helped organize them AND participated in them. There was very little the Jewish people could do when they were caught in a pogrom. Fighting back was nearly impossible. Fleeing the scene to save one’s life was the only option, and this is precisely what my great-grandparents did, taking only a few family items with them.

No worries, pogroms are a thing of the past; the last one was over 100 years ago, right? Think again because we are seeing a resurgence of pogroms in 2024, especially since October 7, 2023, as if the carnage that took place in Israel wasn’t bad enough! The terrorist attack of October 7 was a pogrom. It was organized and focused, and it targeted Jews.

Then there was the Russian airport pogrom that took place in the highly Muslim region of Dagestan on October 29, 2023, when a mob of people rushed against Israeli passengers landing from Tel Aviv. This was a scary scene of out of control, full of rage, mostly men going throughout the airport and even trying to force doors of rooms where Jewish people had tried to shelter.

What about the recent attack in front of a synagogue in Los Angeles where Jewish people were physically assaulted by pro-Hamas thugs, was it a pogrom?

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines the word pogrom as follows: “a mob attack, either approved or condoned by authorities, against the persons and property of a religious, racial, or national minority.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum adds this: “The perpetrators of pogroms organized locally, sometimes with government and police encouragement. They raped and murdered their Jewish victims and looted their property.”

When a specific ethnic group like the Jews is targeted, harassed, and persecuted to the point of physical harm…it is a pogrom, and that was the case in Los Angeles.
But it goes even further when a Jewish family is kicked out of a restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam, for being Jewish. The shop owner yelled, “Get out of my shop. Out! Don’t sit there. My shop doesn’t accept people from your country.”

This is the new reality that our Jewish communities are facing today. Additionally, when the police are specifically told not to intervene, it is a form of organized decision that is also part of what defines a pogrom. Being a bystander is not a neutral position. It leads to helping the perpetrators. Holocaust survivor, author, and activist Elie Wiesel once said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.”

So, if it looks like a pogrom, sounds like a pogrom and hurts like a pogrom…It’s a pogrom! I find it very ironic that–Israel– the country that is fighting an existential war on several fronts, currently is the safest place for Jews because their government has their backs, which is not the case for Jews anywhere else in the world. It is not a conspiracy theory when they are really trying to hurt you.