Dispatch from Odessa: Winter is Coming

photo courtesy JDC (Odessa, December 2014)

By Gil Shefler Every Chanukah for the past two decades, a giant menorah has lit up the central square of the Ukrainian port city of Odessa, bringing a little festive cheer to Jewish and non-Jewish locals during the long winter nights. But this year’s holiday season may be a bit dimmer. Ukraine’s ongoing crisis has made the price of food, medicine, and utilities sky high while the conflict in the east has displaced large and growing numbers of people. With planned power outages and the mandated lowering of thermostats to a frosty 60 degrees Fahrenheit, the coming winter is bound to be one of the harshest in living memory for all Ukrainians, including hundreds of thousands of Jews. I caught a glimpse of these challenging times when I visited Odessa - Ukraine’s third-largest city - with my … [Read more...]

JDC Winter Relief Efforts Expanded in Ukraine

Family in Kiev; photo courtesy JDC

New York, New York, Dec. 8, 2014 - The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s annual Winter Relief program - delivering tons of heating fuel, warm bedding, and clothing to needy Jews across the former Soviet Union - has been critically expanded in Ukraine this year to respond to a harsh winter worsened by the country’s energy crisis, skyrocketing costs, ongoing unrest, and the growing needs of displaced Jews. JDC staff and professionals at the thirty two JDC-supported Hesed social welfare centers in Ukraine are providing extra winter supplies and services to poor elderly, including Nazi victims, struggling families, and displaced Jews who often cannot afford their utility bills or have direct access to heating supplies. “While winter relief is a lifeline for tens of thousands of Jews in … [Read more...]

Former Prisoner of Zion Yosef Mendelevitch Makes Emotional Return to the City Where He Was Arrested

Photo by Roman Yanushevsky, ourtesy of Limmud FSU.

St. Petersburg, Russia, Nov. 30 - Former Prisoner of Zion Yosef Mendelevitch made an emotional return to the city where he was imprisoned in the 1970s to join hundreds of Jews from across Russia for the 4th Annual Limmud FSU program in St. Petersburg this weekend. The three-day Jewish learning festival featured a packed program of lectures, workshops, round-table discussions, music and a wide-range of cultural events. With about 100,000 Jewish residents, St. Petersburg claims the second largest Jewish community in Russia today. Mendelevitch was held in a Soviet prison after being arrested for leading the 1970 “Operation Wedding,” a Soviet Jewish operation to steal a plane from then-Leningrad’s airport and escape to Israel. After gaining his freedom, Mendelevitch made Aliyah to Israel. … [Read more...]

In Rovno, A Tale of Love and Darkness

Professor Fania Oz-Salzberger, daughter of author Amos Oz.

By Nathan Roie and Avital Chizhik “We came to offer life to memory, if even just for a moment,” says Professor Fania Oz-Salzberger, daughter of author Amos Oz, internationally-renowned author of ‘A Tale Of Love And Darkness,’ at the recent Limmud FSU festival in Lvov. Since its publication in 2002, A Tale of Love and Darkness has been translated into dozens of languages. The English translation alone has inspired a full-feature film directed and acted in by American-Israeli actress Natalie Portman. The film is scheduled for release this winter. A saga that is at once about a family saga and a national story at large, A Tale of Love and Darkness tells the story of the Mussman family, the family of Amos Oz’s mother, originally from Rovno in northwestern Ukraine. Between the World Wars, the … [Read more...]

With Russian Tanks in Ukraine and Winter Approaching, Jews Try to Subsist

From the city of Lugansk, Ukraine, grad missiles can be seen fired in the distance, graying the skies and causing worry for city residents, including many Jews who have remained there.

By Dovid Margolin In the November frost, two-dozen men gather for morning prayers at the only synagogue in Lugansk, Ukraine. They don tefillin, praying by the gray daylight shining in through the building’s windows and skylight. One man, Valodia, is fluent in Hebrew and reads from the Torah scroll for the quorum. Before the war, morning prayers were held at 7 a.m., but now, with a citywide curfew that ends at 6 a.m. - and the synagogue cold and dark because its electricity has still not been reconnected - prayers begin at 9. It doesn’t make too much of a difference to the men who have gathered; they’re mostly pensioners, and if the war has left them with anything, it’s time. After prayers, a kettle is placed on the fire, and the group sits together drinking hot tea, talking and warming … [Read more...]

Lviv Welcomes Over 500 for Limmud Ukraine

A participant wearing a vinok, a traditional Ukrainian wreath; photo by Yossi Aloni.

By Larisa Popovskaya Limmud FSU travels around the world and every year this educational festival comes to Ukraine. This year is unusual. This year is the first time Limmud has come to Lviv, the cultural center of today's Western Ukraine and the former center of Jewish life in this region, which was then called Lemberg in German or Lemberik in Yiddish. The city is awash with Austrian architecture, narrow streets of the Middle Ages, the Ukrainian language, Catholic churches, European pavements, Ukrainian cuisine with Polish and Hungarian influences. The Western culture of coffee and a strong national self-identification of local citizens also makes Lviv one of the most interesting and diverse Ukrainian destinations. Jewish life was rich before the Holocaust, every third person who inhabited the … [Read more...]

Limmud FSU Lvov – 1st Look

Havdalah

A sold-out four-day conference of Limmud FSU Ukraine is taking place this weekend in Lviv (historically known as Lvov or Lemburg), the cultural capital of Ukraine. The conference opened with a moment of silence for Ukrainians who have fallen in the country’s ongoing civil conflict. Lvov’s Mayor, Andriy Sadovyi, a rising political persona, attended the opening ceremony in the city’s Center for Science and Technology. Other distinguished guests included Israel’s Ambassador to Ukraine, Eliav Belotserkovsky, and local Jewish communal leaders. The Israeli envoy, noting an exhibition about Ukrainian Jewish history on display during the conference, said the community can serve as a “human bridge” to help build ties between Israel and Ukraine. More than 600,000 Jews from Ukraine have … [Read more...]

New Report on Jewish Life in Ukraine Released

The Institute for Jewish Policy Research four-part series on Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe since the collapse of communism has now been completed with the publication of their new report on Ukraine. The project, which was sponsored by the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe, was designed to explore how Jewish life has evolved and developed in Hungary, Poland, Germany and Ukraine in the generation since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Its overarching purpose is to provide investors, community development professionals and all interested parties with an overview of the realities and challenges of Jewish life in each place. This final report in the series is written by Darina Privalko, an expert in the field of Jewish communal life in Ukraine and a doctoral student working on informal … [Read more...]