I’m a little upset lately, in seeing life going on here in Ukraine without many Jews being present. This area used to have many, many Jews and now they are largely gone. As I mentioned in my last post, Khotyn used to have 24 synagogues and now there is barely one. 18,000 Jews reduced to 29. In Chernivtsy (2 hour bus ride away) where I am now, the main cinema in town is situated in a building which used to be a large and beautiful Jewish temple (pictured above). It was confiscated in 1940 by the Soviets when they gained control of the area, and was burned the following year by the Nazis.
Yesterday I saw a sign on another building which identified it as a farmer Jewish community center. I walked the halls and noticed Stars of David welded in as part of the staircase railings. In researching, I found that 2 of the points of each star were knocked off during the 40s and only recently restored. I wandered into an auditorium where a conference of some sort was having an intermission. I asked a young woman what the event was and it turns out that it is some form of Christian gathering. I had just missed a talk about “Finances and the Bible,” (perhaps subtitled “Moses stole from the Jews too”) but was encouraged to come back in a couple of hours for “Praise and Worship.” During this trip I often found myself visiting various old churches. While there, I would buy some candles and light them on behalf of friends who could use and might appreciate a little “Jesus help.” At some point I realized that, by purchasing these candles, that I was supporting organizations which still largely have anti-semitic undertones (or overtones). I stopped buying candles, and instead made sure I spent much more on some gifts/trinkets from the synagogue in Kiev while there.
As i walk, it pisses me off because as I look around, I realize “they won!” The streets are largely purged of Jewish people and their resources have been claimed by others. In 1919, the city here (Chernivtsy) was half Jewish with 78 synagogues. Today there is I believe but one synagogue. It was such a vibrant Jewish community that it was referred to as “Jerusalem on the River Prut.” Apparently a Romanian Mayor of the city during WWII somehow managed to save nearly 20,000 Jews here, a story I don’t know much about, but hopefully I’ll learn more.
I’ve extended my trip by a few more days in part to be able to attend a Rosh Hashanah gathering on Friday night within the local Jewish community.
I know some may not like the title of this post ‘They Won,” but that’s simply what it feels like when I walk the streets and see non-Jewish faces everywhere I look, or at best a plaque which notes the location of a Jewish institution which no longer exists.