Was Kiev Beating Anti-Semitic Act?

Some See Return of Old Hatreds, But Others Have Doubts

Anti-Semitism Victim?: Alexander Goncharov recovers in an Israeli hospital from injuries suffered in a brutal beating in Kiev. Some believe the attack was an act of anti-Semitism but others have their doubts.
world forum of russian jewry
Anti-Semitism Victim?: Alexander Goncharov recovers in an Israeli hospital from injuries suffered in a brutal beating in Kiev. Some believe the attack was an act of anti-Semitism but others have their doubts.

By Paul Berger

Published June 03, 2012, issue of June 08, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

At about 1 a.m. on the second night of Passover, Alexander “Aron” Goncharov stepped from Brodsky Synagogue, in the center of Kiev, into the cold night air. The 25-year-old yeshiva student, who was staying at the synagogue’s hostel, never returned to his room. After hours of frantic phone calls the following day, yeshiva authorities finally found Goncharov at Kiev’s Hospital 17, with massive head injuries, barely alive.

Jewish communal leaders from Brodsky Synagogue portrayed Goncharov, who was wearing a yarmulke when he left the building, as the latest in a long line of victims of Ukrainian anti-Semitism. A few days later, he was flown to Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital for emergency treatment and was kept in a medically induced coma. When Goncharov finally awoke, one week later, he said that his attackers had yelled “Yid” as they beat him.

Israel’s chief rabbi Yona Metzger visited Goncharov on Holocaust Remembrance Day, underlining his new status as a symbol of contemporary anti-Semitism. Goncharov told Metzger that he hoped to immigrate to Israel, calling it “the safest place for Jews.”

Grave of Andrei Yushchinsky, a Ukrainian schoolboy whose 1911 murder was blamed on Jews.
paul berger
Grave of Andrei Yushchinsky, a Ukrainian schoolboy whose 1911 murder was blamed on Jews.

But back in Kiev, even many Jews are skeptical about the claim that Goncharov — whose severe beating no one doubts or condones — was a victim of anti-Semitism.

“It has nothing to do with anti-Semitism,” said Yaakov Dov Bleich, rabbi of Kiev’s Podol Synagogue and one of several rabbis who claim the mantle of chief rabbi of Ukraine. “The fact he was taken to Israel will probably stop any [police] investigation in its tracks.”

When I arrived in Kiev one week after the attack, it was with a certain amount of trepidation. “Don’t wear a yarmulke outside of the synagogue,” Leonard Petlakh, a leader of the New York-based Russian-speaking community, warned in an email. But instead of finding a Jewish community on tenterhooks, I met many people who were dubious as to whether Goncharov’s injuries had anything to do with his being Jewish — even as many also acknowledged that anti-Semitism in Ukraine remains a problem.

It is only natural that people outside Kiev would believe that the attack was anti-Semitic. Waves of anti-Semitism have swept over Ukraine for generations, from czarist-inspired pogroms during the late 1800s and early 1900s to Communist-imposed discrimination against Jews throughout much of the 20th century. Even the past 20 years of Ukrainian independence have seen spasms of nationalist-fueled anti-Semitism.

After Goncharov’s almost fatal beating, some encouraged the idea that little had changed. Russian, Hebrew and English-language media around the world were quick to report the “anti-Semitic attack” by a group of suspected neo-Nazis. Alexander Levin, a prominent businessman who has close ties to the Brodsky Synagogue and is the founder of the new World Forum of Russian Jewry, called for a meeting with Ukraine’s interior minister to “demand that law authorities take action.” Days later, Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, vowing that Goncharov’s attackers would be found, called on Ukrainians to show “tolerance for people of different beliefs and nationalities.”

Goncharov, who arrived in Kiev from the industrial city of Lugansk three weeks before the attack, had only recently been circumcised. He was not a native of the city. Over the course of a few days, I heard a variety of unsubstantiated rumors about just why Goncharov had gone out into Kiev at 1 a.m. from the yeshiva at which he was lodging. Most of all, people wanted to know what Goncharov was doing between the time he left Brodsky Synagogue at 1 a.m. and when his body was found by a passerby at about 7 a.m. in Bessarabian Square, a busy part of the city, about a 10-minute walk from the synagogue. Few believed he had just lain, unconscious and prostrate, in the city center for six hours, undetected. Several people questioned how an attack by a gang of neo-Nazi thugs in this busy part of the city was apparently witnessed by no one.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.