So little is known about Ukraine’s Jewish past, and present.
For example, did you know that Ukraine is the second most sacred site on earth for Jews, second only to Israel itself?
Such facts are too often lost in a sea of ignorance and mutual distrust created and cultivated by outside forces with a vested interest in keeping Jews and Ukrainians from working together to build a strong, sovereign Ukrainian state.
A few years ago, in Toronto, that is exactly what I heard Meylakh Sheykhet say to a gathering of both communities.
Meylakh has devoted his life to preserving what is left of Ukraine’s Jewish community, and restoring harmony between Ukrainians and Jews. Known as the “guardian of Jewish cemetaries in Ukraine,” Meylakh is the Executive Director of the Jewish Heritage Museum in Lviv, and a tireless advocate against the ongoing desecration of Jewish sacred sites in Ukraine.
Here in Canada, he spoke of the devastation wreaked in Ukraine by the Nazis and the Communists. He also spoke of the affection between Jews and non-Jews in remote Ukrainian villages… genuine affection between ordinary workaday people who live side by side year in and year out and who are mutually devasted whenever a Jewish neighbour emigrates to Israel or the West.
This was a meme that was seldom heard.
I wanted to hear more. Much more.
And, being a broadcaster, I wanted to share what I heard about this fascinating old/new world.
Fortunately, Meylakh was amenable to the idea of a Nash Holos feature on Ukrainian Jewish heritage. As was the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter, who I cannot thank enough for making this series possible.
So this past summer, Nash Holos launched a new weekly series called Ukrainian Jewish Heritage. The stories are presented by Renata Hanynets, a delightful young woman who works as a fellow at the Museum. She is aided in her research by Meylakh’s assistant, Volodymyr Valkov, and of course Meylakh’s guidance.
The result is stories that astonish, amaze and uplift me. I’m sure they will do the same for you, too.