KYIV, Ukraine — A 70-year-old Ukrainian Jewish man on Tuesday met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and told him he had undergone a late-in-life circumcision earlier in the day in the Israeli leader’s honor.
The unusual meeting took place at an event Netanyahu hosted at his Kyiv hotel for the Ukrainian Jewish community on the last day of his state visit to the country.
The gathering was attended by rabbis and other Jewish dignitaries from across the country.
After the speeches, Netanyahu was introduced to Kyiv resident Felix Gelfer, who had undergone the procedure earlier in the day and adopted the Jewish name Yonatan, in honor of the prime minister’s brother Yoni Netanyahu, who was killed while leading an Israeli commando force in the July 1976 rescue of hostages held at Entebbe airport in Uganda.
Gelfer, who is Jewish but was never circumcised, later told The Times of Israel that he was inspired to undergo the painful religious ritual by Netanyahu’s visit to Ukraine.
“It was very emotional to be part of this special brit, and to witness the revival of the Jewish spirit in Ukraine,” Joel Lion, Israel’s ambassador in Kyiv, told The Times of Israel, using the Hebrew term for circumcision. “Only by strengthening Jewish identity in the Diaspora we are bringing Jews closer to Israel.”
In a ritual dating back to biblical times, Jewish males are traditionally circumcised when they are eight days old.
Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to visit Ukraine since his own visit in March 1999. He is scheduled to return to Israel on Tuesday evening.
During his speech at the event, Netanyahu said, “Our people were almost completely eradicated. We were massacred without mercy. And today our people live in a strong, robust, advanced and prosperous nation—first and foremost thanks to the strength of our faith.
The main cause for the Jewish people’s amazing transformation was “faith,” he stressed throughout his speech, which was full of religious themes.
“Without faith, nothing matters,” he declared. “Without faith, we would not have been able to create the miracle that is the rebirth of Israel in its homeland. It is a faith that has been passed from generation to generation, even in our most difficult hours.”