Ukrainian Jewish Heritage: Limmud FSU California 2016

Today, let us consider identity. Identity may be frozen, destroyed, or altered through major life changes such as exile, immigration, or assimilation.

Identity is a journey, as a recent conference in Los Angeles has shown. The Jewish organization Limmud FSU, the FSU standing for Former Soviet Union, brought together several hundred people to discuss and celebrate their evolving identifies.

Limmud FSU brings together young Jewish adults who are revitalizing Jewish culture throughout the countries of the former Soviet Union. It also has an international network with Russian-speakers in Israel and throughout the world.

[Russian-language excerpt, summarized in English-language paragraph below.]

Limmud FSU Executive Director Roman Kogan points out that the organization has a unique ability to attract enthusiastic people who are outside the traditional Jewish community. Committed to pluralism and education, Limmud’s format and principles enables it to strengthen and expand the dialogue between the Jewish and Ukrainian communities.

Important parts of this dialogue on identities were the dynamic talks by the Ukrainian historian Ihor Shchupak. He is the director of Dnipropetrovsk’s Tkuma Center for Holocaust Studies and Museum of History of Jews of Ukraine.

Shchupak engaged his audiences in provocative give-and-takes on the complexities and contradictions of the history between Jews and Ukrainians. Can most people be heroes in dire conditions? He denied the possibility of mass heroism. And yet in the grim statistics of the Holocaust, Ukraine, along with Holland, Poland, and France, was among the leaders in the number of Righteous saving Jews. There are two and a half thousand Ukrainian Righteous documented so far.

Most of the population was indifferent, but individuals rose to the occasion. as Shchupak pointed out in his discussion on Ukrainian Catholic leader Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky.

The UJE screened Saved By Sheptytsky, a film that presents first-person accounts by three survivors who as children were hidden from the Nazis by Sheptytsky and his church. Shchupak underlined the fact that you need to reconsider stereotypes that mar understanding. There is good. There is evil. And there is life. Sheptytsky rose above national egoism through his actions.

Shchupak was joined by the Russian writer and radio host Victor Shenderovich in a lively discussion on the tangled web of identities created for Jews by the triangle of life in Russia, Ukraine, and the United States. Soviet mentality, post-Soviet politics, social status, heritage, and dual citizenship all play a role in the dynamic evolution of self-identity among Russian-speaking Jews.

Shenderovich gave one of the conference’s most haunting closing sessions. In his Russian outlook on Russia and beyond, he remarked how Moscow is now brightly lit. Everything is beautiful. And in Berlin in 1939 everything was beautiful.

History is long and life is short, he noted. He recalls how during Soviet times, they, that is, the leaders, were building communism. But we, the people, were living our lives. We had the pleasures of beer and football, while they built communism.

He said Russia’s leaders today are in a different place. They know they crossed a line. Crimea. The war in Donbas. The airliner shot down. They have no way out.

Shenderovich reminds us that the Romanian dictator Ceausescu brought in people from the provinces for massive rallies three days before he was overthrown.

So what is Russia’s future? The all-powerful “they” face a dilemma. Shenderovich notes that you can predict the logic of the cold-blooded criminal. It is another story however with the panicked…

This has been Ukrainian Jewish Heritage on Nash Holos Ukrainian Roots Radio. From San Francisco, I’m Peter Bejger. Until next time, shalom!


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