On a recent reporting trip to Ukraine, Jim Geraghty, senior political correspondent at National Review and a contributing Washington Post columnist, spent time with Moshe Reuven Azman, the 57-year-old rabbi who heads Kyiv’s Brodsky Synagogue.
The rabbi told Geraghty that he was a quiet man before the war.
“The notion of Azman as a quiet man is a little tough to align with his deep and authoritative baritone voice, his massive body and his erudite conversational English,” Geraghty wrote in the Post. “Or with the social media presence he has established since March 2022.”
Azman has emerged as an influential Jewish leader who provides humanitarian relief following the Russian invasion and war, Geraghty wrote. The article notes that the rabbi and his assistant came under fire at one point.
Of Azman’s musical talents, Geraghty wrote: “You will rarely find a more effusive, earnest or full-throated musical expression of patriotism.”
The rabbi told him that half of Ukraine’s 300,000 Jews and half of Kyiv’s 50,000 Jews have fled the country.
“We have 40 million people here; sure, we have antisemitism,” Azman said. “But the Ukrainian people, it is a miracle—they voted for a Jewish guy to be president.”
Geraghty told JNS that life for everyone in Ukraine is difficult right now, but his conversation with Azman gave him the impression that non-Jewish Ukrainians largely welcome the country’s Jews and the latter’s “efforts to help Ukraine’s war effort are particularly appreciated.”
“You can fairly point out that a country that elects a Jewish president can’t be that antisemitic, and while some antisemitism in a country of roughly 40 million people is inevitable, there’s a real sense of ‘We’re all in this together’ among Ukrainians,” he said.
After the war, Geraghty figures that Ukrainian society will have the chance to discuss more fully whether Azov Brigade and other groups have sufficiently rooted out extremists from their ranks.
“For now, there’s a war to fight, and that’s the preeminent focus of every major figure in Ukraine at this moment,” Geraghty told JNS. “A Russian bomb doesn’t wait to see which people beneath it are Jewish and which ones are Orthodox Christian.”