Soviet dissident and Freedom Prize winner Josef Zissels becomes a Ukrainian Jew
In his support of the Maidan Revolution, the Ukrainian Jewish dissident Josef Zissels was out in front of other prominent Jews. Last March, he protested the Jewish Agency’s decision to hold a conference in Kiev, citing the “assault on political and social rights and freedoms of Ukrainian citizens” under then-President Viktor Yanukovych.
Ukraine is in turmoil and probably will be for some time. The high-stakes brinksmanship between Kiev and Vladimir Putin’s Russia escalated this month when Putin sliced off a large chunk of sovereign Ukrainian territory, Crimea, while the United States and Europe did little or nothing to stop him. Some have suggested that Crimea is the new Sudetenland and Putin the chief authoritarian menace of the 21st century. Ukraine’s Jewish community, which still numbers more than 100,000, has much to say about Ukraine’s future, and Zissels is its most influential figure. He founded Ukraine’s first post-Soviet Jewish organization in 1988, and since 1991 he has been chair of the Vaad of Ukraine, the confederation of Ukrainian Jewish organizations. He is currently vice president of the World Jewish Congress and, since 2002, chair of the General Council of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.