«Jewish Observer»
October 2002
5763 Cheshvan

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A computer of the Jewish University in Jerusalem produced such frequency combination as a name after downloading a program of a unique plenary seminar for artists, pedagogues and art historians.

The JA "Sokhnut" has organized the latter in cooperation with Jewish University, Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, "Joint" and other organizations. The project "Roads, palaces, towns" can hardly be called a seminar in the usual sense of this word. This is, rather, a creative laboratory, which aim is joint research of historians, culturologists, art historians and artists from Ukraine, Israel, Moldova, Germany and France. Within a fortnight the participants managed to visit such formerly big Jewish centers of Ukraine as Shargorod, Medzhibozh, Satanov, Kamenets-Podolsky, Vizhnitsa, Chernovtsy and others. Each of these towns is a separate culture layer in Ukraine's centuries-old Jewish history. Suffice it to say that in the XVII century a today provincial Medzhibozh was home to 10 thousand people (one third of them were Jews), Kiev - 14 thousand, Lvov - 12 thousand. Medzhibozh is connected with the birth of Hasidism; a great Baal Shem-Tov is buried here, whose teaching in most diverse interpretations has spread over the entire Jewish world - from Canada to Australia. Today you will find there only ramshackle houses with plates in Ukrainian and Hebrew "Street of Baal Shem-Tov" along a country road leading to BESHT's grave. Only two Jews are left in the town. None of them is left, for instance, in the town of in Kuty, Ivano-Frankovsk region. Germans shot the community dead 100m away from the Jewish cemetery. The cemetery is ruining, whereas a kitchen garden next to it is flourishing yielding potato harvests for market sales. The owners, true, do not consume it... Where Jews had disappeared no one knows, "There had been many of them, but later they are said to have escaped to the forest". In Satanov you find a huge half-ruined synagogue-fortress with loopholes and walls retaining the remnants of 400-year-old majestic paintings or of "palaces" of Hasid tsadiks with fallen roofs. A Shargorod synagogue is much more lucky in this sense. A medieval building of 1567 houses a wine plant that saved the temple from complete destruction. A ramshackle house of a born Shargorod resident "baba" Liza resembles a museum of a dying town's daily life with yellowed photos on the walls, a huge cupboard and oil lamp. Likeness to the museum is strengthened by a live bargaining (in Yiddish!) on the permission to visit this patrimonial nest. Agreement is reached - 2 hryvnas per person (a group is rather big)... This is rather God's price. A pal of sheer Semitic looks on the porch of a neigbouring house also tries to make some money offering potential customers great-grandfather's volumes of "Talmud" 30-40 USD apiece. "Shalom" - smiles his 3-year old daughter looking already quite Slavonic.

"We try to re-create an image of former Ukrainian Jewry out of odd elements", - says the head of expedition Ilya Dvorkin. But this image is restored not by researchers, but by artists - archeologists of spirit who intuitively unveil to us the pages of past epoch. The seminar seems to have united different layers of Jewish history restoring historical succession between Israel and diaspora.

At times, the atmosphere itself generated unexpected improvisations like, for example, performing a famous nigun of Levi-Yitzhak in the Berdichev synagogue and jazz impromptu at the mikvah of Baal Shem-Tov near Vizhnitsa - the town 98%(!) of which pre-war population were Jews. We were no less surprised to view a Vizhnitsa synagogue built in 1938 (still under the Romanian rule), i. e. when the absolute majority of Jewish temples on the USSR expanses was destroyed or, at best, turned into factories, storehouses, houses of culture. Though, our heroine, too, did not escape a signboard "District house of culture". A future People's artist of Ukraine Nazariy Yaremchuk made his first steps namely here. Epoques, cultures, nationalities queerly got mixed up in this land... A tiny, lost among the Galician hills Buchach gave to the world such diverse personalities as a Nobel prize winner in literature Shmuel-Joseph Agnon, world-famous hunter for Nazis Shimon Vizental and... father of Zigmund Freid.

These are our roots, as well as those of many generations of Israelis whose grandmothers and grandfathers used to build synagogues, pray, bear children in Vizhnitsa, Shargorod, Chernovtsy. And of not only Israelis... During a final lecture "Shtetl versus megapolis" an art historian Grigory Kazovsky brilliantly demonstrated to the audience "small town" roots of leading American painters-modernists of early XX century, many of whom, as you may guess, were natives of our land.

The participants experienced this new to many feeling of complicity and unreality of what was going on at a New Year dining table in the Chernovtsy park. Even thousands of romping teenagers at the city disco nearby could not silence our reading Kiddush.

In today's Chernovtsy, completely devoid of a touch of provinciality, the synagogue attracts on Rosh a-Shana a no less than in the capital number of elderly people. It is not surprising since when the overwhelming majority of young Kiev (Kharkov, Odessa) Jews was already singing pioneer songs, these ones still went to yeshivas, listened to Zhabotinsky in the "Jewish house" and played football for "Makkabi".

The seminar composition, Bible texts' reading to theatrical accompaniment, academic lectures against the background of discovering the died down or still glimmering hearths of culture - this everything testifies to seminar's organizers being true artists, helping trace down the connection with our own past.

Head of educational department of JA "Sokhnut" in CIS countries Mikhail Yadovitsky told about an awakening national memory at the exhibition dedicated to preliminary project's conclusions.

The exposition in the Chernovtsy park, laid out under Franz-Joseph, presented most diverse paintings, graphical works, photos. To a large extent, these are only sketches of future works.

The coming months will witness a whole number of exhibitions in Kiev, Petersburg, Jerusalem. This means the seminar goes on. As well as art, as well as the road of our historic memory...


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© 2002 Jewish Confederation of Ukraine - www.jewukr.org