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A Ukrainian Jew made aliyah. Now he’s back in his homeland fighting Russia.
Serhii Pruzhanskyi, 43, a security guard at Ben-Gurion International Airport, moved back home to Ukraine in 2019 to care for his ailing mother. He was preparing to return to Israel in early 2022 when the war began. He’s been on the frontlines ever since and, as Tamar Jacoby reports from Kyiv, Pruzhanskyi’s story offers a window into some of what’s at stake in the war.
In the line of fire: During the battle in Irpin, the small town where Pruzhanskyi grew up, he helped evacuate 500 civilians, driving into the shelling in his own car, a battered sedan with the license plate “YEVREY” – Ukrainian for Jew – to pick up people hiding in basements and bring them to a bridge that led to safety.
Israeli inspiration: Pruzhanskyi said he drew on what he experienced in Israel, both as a civilian and a soldier. “There’s a kind of trust I’d never seen before,” he explained. “Of course, people squabble there like anywhere else, but they’re united by something bigger than themselves, and when something happens — a missile attack, a storm, a war — they help each other.” In the heat of battle for his homeland, Pruzhanskyi said, “what I’d learned in the Israeli army kicked in. I knew how to turn off my panic and do what I had to do.”
Looking ahead: He now splits his time between Irpin, where he supervises a shelter for elderly people whose homes have been destroyed, and the frontlines, now in southern and eastern Ukraine. “You need to tell Americans about that sorrow and suffering,” he told Jacoby, a veteran journalist who has spent nine months in the region as a volunteer aide worker and interviewing Ukrainian refugees. “You need to shout it to the world.”
Read the story ➤
Barbara Walters at her NBC desk in 1964. (Getty)
How the iconic Barbara Walters led the charge against antisemitism and social injustice: Walters, who died Friday at 93, was known for her pointed and personal interview style, whether she was speaking with Menachem Begin or Monica Lewinsky. But she saved some of her fiercest criticism for Spiro Agnew, President Richard Nixon’s vice president, who published a novel rife with antisemitic tropes. Read the story ➤
Every ‘Jew-ish’ thing George Santos has said and done (that we know about): The Brazilian authorities announced Monday they would reopen fraud charges against Santos, 34, even as he is sworn in today as part of the 118th Congress. He also faces investigations by both federal and Long Island prosecutors, as well as calls for an ethics probe from some of his Republican House colleagues. Since the Forward broke the story of Santos having lied about his grandparents fleeing anti-Jewish persecution in Europe, we and other outlets have uncovered numerous false or questionable claims about his heritage. Our Beth Harpaz has put them together in this list to help you keep up. Read the story ➤
Plus: In her latest column, our editor-in-chief says the Santos saga is both a triumph and a cautionary tale for the journalism industry.
Jewish law forbids human composting, but that doesn’t mean Jews aren’t doing it: New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Saturday legalized this environmentally friendly method of burial. It’s already popular in other parts of the country. Anne Lang of Boulder, Colorado, for example, requested it before her May death, of lymphoma. “She is still with us,” said her daughter, Zoe Lang. “I think she would be thrilled to know she is coming back as a flower or a tree with a beautiful view.” But some rabbis say it’s a mistake. Read the story ➤
Test your IQ: How close were you following the Jewish headlines last week? Take our quiz and see how you do. (I guessed on a few and got a 7 out of 8.)
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WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY
A man walks near the Dome of the Rock on Tuesday, when Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the site. (Getty)
🇷🇺 The new Israeli foreign minister, Eli Cohen, signaled Monday that the new government would take a more pro-Russian line on the war in Ukraine. Cohen said he would speak today with his Russian counterpart, the first such call since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Sen. Lindsay Graham, Republican of South Carolina, called the move “unnerving.” (Twitter)
🇮🇱 More on Israeli politics: A Sephardi spiritual leader said that Amir Ohana, who last week became the Knesset’s first openly gay speaker, is “infected with disease,” and blamed him for the deadly crowd crush on Mount Meron. (Haaretz) … The U.S. and French embassies joined Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinians in criticizing a visit to the Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock compound this morning by Itamar Ben-Gvir, the new minister of national security. (Haaretz)
✝️ A Vatican funeral is set for Thursday for Pope Benedict XVI, who spent a portion of his teenage years in the Hitler Youth organization. During his eight years as pope, Benedict took many steps to advance Catholic-Jewish relations, visiting synagogues and Israel and condemning antisemitism on multiple occasions. (JTA)
💰 Lithuania’s parliament passed a law last week to give more than $38 million in restitution for Holocaust survivors and their heirs. This is in addition to the approximately $72 million the parliament allocated more than a decade ago to fund projects that benefit the country’s Jewish population. (JTA)
👏 The Kol Israel Foundation Holocaust Memorial in Bedford Heights, Ohio, was designated a national monument as part of a package signed Thursday by President Joe Biden. (New York Times)
📺 Shtisel, a TV series about Haredi Jews that became an international phenomenon after it was picked up by Netflix, is getting a Muslim makeover for Turkish audiences. An American adaptation of Shtisel is also in the works. (JTA)
Mazel tov ➤ To Britain’s chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, who was among several Jewish dignitaries given a knighthood by King Charles III over new year’s. (Jewish Chronicle)
Shiva call ➤ Cara De Silva, a food historian who preserved Jewish recipes, died at 83. She edited In Memory’s Kitchen, a collection compiled by prisoners in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. In her youth, De Silva was active in Yiddish theater, including a lead role in The Rise of David Levinsky, the stage adaptation of the 1917 novel by Ab Cahan, the Forward’s founder.
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Werner Michael Blumenthal (in light suit) meets with President Jimmy Carter. (Wikimedia)
On this day in history (1926): Werner Michael Blumenthal, a future Treasury Secretary under President Jimmy Carter, was born in Germany. He escaped with his family in 1939 and lived in the Jewish ghetto of Japanese-occupied Shanghai until 1947. He immigrated to the U.S., where he got degrees from U.C. Berkeley and Princeton, launched a business career, and worked in the Kennedy, Johnson and Carter administrations. After retiring from politics, he spent 17 years as director of the Jewish Museum in Berlin.
On the Hebrew calendar, it’s the 10th of Tevet, a minor fast day. It commemorates the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II, which ultimately culminated in the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people.
In honor of National Chocolate Covered Cherry Day, check out this recipe for chocolate cherry babka.