Bias, stereotypes, and prejudices. We all strive to rise above them but history often proves to be a burden, as well as a challenge to deeper understanding.
A newly published book entitled Jews and Ukrainians: A Millennium of Co-Existence forthrightly tackles sensitive and controversial topics. Two distinguished academics have undertaken a bold project to outline in an intriguing new manner the long and complicated history of Jews and Ukrainians.
Paul Robert Magocsi is professor of history and political science at the University of Toronto where he holds the John Yaremko Chair of Ukrainian Studies.
Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern is the Crown Family Professor of Jewish Studies and Professor of History in History Department at Northwestern University.
Writing separately, and at times together, the co-authors produced a parallel narrative of two peoples that ultimately provided a single story. And this story reveals as many similarities as differences between the two peoples.
Both ethnic Ukrainians and Jews are shown to be multilingual, multicultural, mobile, and highly culturally productive peoples. The perceived legacy of difference gives way to one of commonality.
Jews and Ukrainians first began to interact on a significant scale in the early seventeenth century. From that time historical memories were formed. The tone for relations between Jews and Ukrainians was set.
Subsequent dramatic events, especially in the twentieth century, formed new memories, memories often couched in stereotypes and prejudices.
Twelve thematic chapters in the book outline the rich history of Jews and Ukrainians. They at first cover geography, history, economic life, traditional culture, and religion and language. They continue with literature, the arts, music, the Diaspora, and contemporary Ukraine.
The book is lavishly enhanced by over 300 full-color illustrations, over two dozen maps, plus several text inserts that address specific topics or explore controversial issues. In their treatment of these issues, the authors have chosen to be narrators, not polemicists.
The book’s streamlined style is extremely reader friendly and aimed at the general public. The book won a Special Recognition Award at the Lviv Book Forum in 2016.
After a journey though complex, problematic, and inspiring topics, the book concludes on a reflection of the past as prologue. The authors point out that our views of the past are often informed by individual perceptions. And these perceptions can evolve into stubbornly held beliefs and convictions.
However, Professors Magocsi and Petrovsky-Shtern remind us that perceptions we hold of the past may be based on the absence of knowledge. Ignorance fuels misperceptions.
This book offers an invaluable resource for those who are willing to challenge their existing convictions and beliefs, and to take a step forward into greater knowledge.
This has been Ukrainian Jewish Heritage on Nash Holos Ukrainian Roots Radio. Copies of Jews and Ukrainians: A Millennium of Co-Existence can be ordered on the University of Toronto Press publishing website or through Amazon.com. From San Francisco, I’m Peter Bejger. Until next time, shalom!