KIEV, UKRAINE -- Senior Jewish Agency for Israel officials, along with hundreds of Jewish leaders from across the globe held a memorial ceremony at Babi Yar on Monday, where an estimated 50,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis in the autumn of 1941 during the Holocaust.
At a somber event, Chairman of the Executive Natan Sharansky laid a wreath in the name of the organization.
"Babi Yar and Auschwitz are two symbols of the Holocaust – a crime which has no comparison in human history," he said, noting that ten days earlier he had participated in the opening of “Shoah” permanent Jewish exhibit at the notorious death camp.
The ceremony took place during the thrice-annual Board of Governors session, which is taking place in Kiev this week. The region's 200,000-member Jewish community is one of the largest in the former Soviet Union (FSU).
"Today, we are obliged to eradicate the phenomenon of the new anti-Semitism," Sharansky said, assessing contemporary mounting hostility towards Israel, "which, through the three D’s - demonization, double-standards and de-legitimization, is attempting to create an atmosphere where the destruction of the State of Israel also appears almost natural."
Ukrainian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Leonid Kozhara, who spoke at the ceremony, said his people “feel great sympathy for the Jews and condemn all of the crimes which have been committed against them," stressing that "The Ukrainian people will never forget the tragedy of Babi Yar."
The minister added that, "Today the Ukrainian Jewish community is growing stronger from day to day thanks to cooperation with the government of the new and independent Ukraine."
Chief Rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine, Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, said the conference was one of the most important events in the 25-year history of Kiev's revitalized Jewish community.
“Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for coming to visit Ukraine," Bleich told BOG members, in appreciation.
"That the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors - people who are active in helping our community - has come to visit our local Jewish community is of the utmost importance for us," Bleich said, concluding that "We hope it will be as important for you to be here as it is for us to have you here.”
Chairman of the Board, James Tisch, Israeli Minister of Immigrant Absorption, Sofa Landver, Israeli Minister of Housing and Construction, Uri Ariel, and the Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine, Reuven Din El, also attended the event. The opening event was sponsored by The World Forum of Russian Jewry, which is headed by the American-Ukrainian businessman and philanthropist, Alexander L. Levin.
After the conclusion of the ceremony, the entourage visited a number of Agency programs in Kiev, and met with leaders of local grassroots initiatives like Hamama, an incubator for innovation in the FSU which operates in the spheres of informal Jewish education and community-building.
The Board is comprised of members of Jewish and international Zionist organizations who hold in-depth strategic discussions about issues affecting Israel and the Jewish world and to set policy for The Jewish Agency.
This week's session is the first time the Board of Governors is meeting in the former Soviet Union, a move Agency officials said reflects the solidarity between world and Ukrainian Jewry.
Since the beginning of large-scale Aliyah (immigration to Israel) from the FSU in 1989, 330,000 Ukrainians have immigrated to Israel with the Agency assistance, many of them through special tracks for young immigrants and professionals.
Thousands of Ukrainians make Aliyah annually, with hundreds also taking part in experiential educational programs such as Taglit-Birthright and Masa Israel Journey.