Volodymyr Zelensky is a lot of things — including, to be sure, a “hero” to many. But to anyone who takes Jewish identity, Jewish tradition, and, especially, Jewish survival at least somewhat seriously, he certainly should not be considered a “Jewish hero.”It may be disappointing enough Zelensky's the gazillionth person of ethnic Israeli/Jewish descent who won't promote the Judaist faith as one worthy of following/converting to. But as the following makes clear, it's even worse than you think:
Zelensky was born to Jewish parents. Like that of most Jews from behind the Iron Curtain, his upbringing was markedly secular. As Beckerman rightly points out, “Jewish identity didn’t exist in the Soviet Union, because it couldn’t.” That said, there were Soviet Jews who found their way to some form of Jewish identity after the breakup of the communist empire. Indeed, more than a million immigrated to Israel in a wave that started in earnest at the beginning of the 1990s.
But Zelensky did no such thing. “Zelensky and his family,” Beckerman concedes, “were part of the few hundred thousand Jews who stayed, content to assimilate in a post-Soviet world.” Zelensky has never even shied away from making light of this reality. For instance, in a 2019 interview with the French newspaper Le Point, Zelensky quipped, “The fact that I am Jewish barely makes 20 in my long list of faults.”
Zelensky married a non-Jewish woman who was baptized, and he and his wife baptized their two children in the Greek Orthodox tradition, according to press reports. Boleslav Kapulkin, the spokesman for Chabad Lubavitch in Odessa, Ukraine, was even under the impression that Zelensky himself had converted to Christianity. Eduard Dolinsky, executive director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, went further. He attested that Zelensky is “a Ukrainian with Jewish ancestry; he’s not a member of the Jewish community, he’s not religious, doesn’t keep Jewish traditions and never speaks of himself as a Jew.”
There’s a long-running and complex debate over what constitutes Jewish identity. But there’s no question that Zelensky’s life choices have been inimical to the survival of the Jewish people and the Jewish faith.
Recently, Zelensky has started to make a habit of referring to his Jewishness in conjunction with pleas for international backing of Ukraine. He blasted Henry Kissinger for calling for a diplomatic solution to the Russia-Ukraine War, likening the plea of the former secretary of state and national security adviser to Neville Chamberlain’s infamous appeasement of Hitler in Munich in 1938. He also slammed, of all nations, lo and behold, Israel for refusing to arm Ukraine. (Israel hasn’t armed Russia either.) Now there is reporting that Zelensky is pushing the White House to pressure Israel.Now that's a very valid reason for concern. Ukraine's government, even under Zelensky, acts hostile to Israel at the worst global forum that's no freedom-lover's paradise, and so far, hasn't made any genuine efforts to clean up this act. Of course that's reprehensible. Certainly, it would do some good to provide aid to the country for defense against a country that's still severely influenced by communism, but that doesn't excuse Zelensky's hypocrisy. And why couldn't he show the courage to practice the Judaist religion in any way, and encourage the Ukrainian public to try it as well? This is all something the new Netanyahu government should make a point of, why, if Israel is to aid Ukraine, they must prove they can repay the deed by ceasing all hostility at the UN, in example.
Worse still, Ukraine, under Zelensky, has been rather hostile to Israel at the United Nations, the international forum where the Jewish state has been under sustained assault for decades. According to UN Watch, in a total of 122 resolutions involving Israel, Ukraine has voted against Israel in 95 and abstained in 27. That means it did not vote in favor of Israel once. Yet Zelensky continues to make demands of the Jewish state, which must deal with a Russian presence in neighboring Syria, where Israel conducts counterterrorism operations against Islamic extremists.
It's a terrible shame how Jews living in foreign countries would rather be part of an establishment mindset than promote certain aspects and customs as worthy of emulation for outsiders. Zelensky's regrettably one of those.