Jews Around the World Ascend to Leadership Positions
Outside of Israel and the United States, it is rare to hear that a Jew has been elected to a national office. Twice this year, though, Jewish leaders in both Uganda and Ukraine have won election to prominent seats in their national governments.
In Uganda, Rabbi Gershom Sizomu won a seat in parliament this past February. Rabbi Sizomu is the leader of Uganda’s 2,000-person Abayudaya Jewish community that began when the group chose Judaism in 1919. This was his second run for office after a loss in 2011 that he had argued was fraudulent. One of the key issues that set Rabbi Sizomu apart from his opponents was his support for gay rights – a controversial position in a country whose parliament has been trying to criminalize homosexuality. Commenting on his stance, Rabbi Sizomu said, “I am not shy to say — gay people deserve to be treated with respect, that they have their human rights.”
In April, Ukraine’s parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a Jewish Prime Minister: Volodymyr Groysman. Prime Minister Groysman had served as a mayor and as speaker of Ukraine’s parliament. He inherits a country roiled by political crisis and has vowed to tackle corruption and strengthen ties with the European Union. Many observers have noted the significance that the Prime Minister has been able to publicly show his Judaism and connection to Israel. Not one century ago, Ukraine was the site of terrible pogroms and had its Jewish community decimated during the Holocaust. While anti-Semitism persists among fringe groups in Ukraine, historian Timothy Snyder has called Prime Minister Groysman’s election “remarkable in the history of Jewish political integration.”
Both of these men face their own political challenges in their home country, and there is of course much more to who they are than the fact that they are both Jewish. At the same time, it is encouraging to see these men take the emphasis on public service that many see in Judaism to heart and to see their fellow citizens accept them as both Jewish leaders and leaders in their countries.