Last week around Purim, many of us were discussing the seeming parallels between Queen Esther and Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy. It was particularly striking to read chapter 4 verse 14: “who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
The parallels can certainly be overstated but in many ways both Esther and Zelenskyy arrived at their “royal position” in unexpected and roundabout ways. Zelenskyy is not a politician by background but rather a comedian and comic actor. In 2015 he created a television show called “Servant of the People”. In it, he plays a high school history teacher, Vasyl Petrovych Holoborodko. During a discussion with another teacher, Vasyl goes on a rant against the corruption of the Ukrainian political class. A student surreptitiously captures the rant on his cellphone and posts it to YouTube, where it goes viral. A presidential election is coming up, and Vasyl is elected president with 67% of the vote.
The first season of “Servant of the People” is now available on Netflix and if you are at all interested in Ukraine and Zelenskyy it’s worth a look. Holoborodko evolves from an amiable doofus to a competent if unconventional leader. He resists the trappings of office, continues to live at home with his parents (he is divorced and shares custody of his son), and takes the bus or bikes to work.
Holoborodko is an extremely appealing character and Zelenskyy himself noted that when people would stop him for a selfie during the run of the series, they were really looking to pose with Holoborodko and not Zelenskyy per se. And in a case where truth is stranger than fiction, while Holoborodko was elected with 67 percent of the vote, Zelenskyy in 2019 actually got 73 percent.
I wonder if Zelenskyy would have run for office had he known that he would be responsible for leading his nation in this war. His life is quite literally at risk but like Esther his attitude is “if I perish, I perish.”
We continue to be deeply concerned about the welfare of the Ukrainian people under attack from Russia and those who have fled the country. Our own Masorti (Conservative) movement has been active in Ukraine for decades with what was until recently a thriving network of congregations, schools, and camps. If you want to assist the worldwide Masorti effort in Ukraine and neighboring countries please give at this link.
As a reminder, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has established a Ukraine Emergency Fund to meet emergency humanitarian needs. You can find out more and donate here.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian