“Even a Small Community Should be Heard”
Stated by: Josef Zissels, Founder and Chairman of VAAD
Written just for you by Mary Horrocks, edited by Jenny Kirsch
First thing in the morning, we had the had the opportunity to meet with the head of the VAAD-Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of the Ukraine, Josef Zissels. VADD was founded in 1980s to restore traditional Jewish life and culture. Josef was born and raised in Kiev and was able to speak not only about his professional role organizing the contemporary Jewish community in the Ukraine, but also about his personal past living as a Jew under the Soviet regime.
We also spoke with Katya from the Kyiv Mohyla Academy and learned about Jewish Studies at the university level in the Ukraine. We heard about a Judaic Studies certificate program at the University which combines Jewish history of Ukraine/Europe in the Middle Ages, Yiddish language, text study, Jewish art of Eastern Europe, and classical Jewish text. We were interested to learn that the majority of students who participate in this program do not identify as Jewish. While studying at the certificate program, they are also completing their main undergraduate degrees in a variety of fields such as economics, philosophy, and mathematics. For many of them, it appears that Jewish Studies is an intellectual side interest instead of a personal or professional aspiration.
We also learned about the Lo Tishkakh program here in the Ukraine, where they are attempting to create a database of Jewish cemeteries and mass killing sites, as well as preserving Jewish cemeteries throughout the Ukraine. It's estimated that there are over 3000 Jewish cemeteries throughout this country, of various sizes and various states of (dis)repair. In one particular area that they are currently working, there are over 220 cemeteries.
Yana Drozdovski question pertained to the current relationship between Ukraine and Israel. Josef (from VAAD) said that while the Ukraine was once in romantic love/infatuation with Israel after the fall of the Soviet Union, the honeymoon period has faded and the community and communal structures have had to adapt to this shift. Not every political decision Israel makes now is automatically seen to be in the best interest of the Jewish community in the Ukraine, and furthermore, the Ukrainian Jewish community is growing to encompass and increasing number of Ukrainian Jews returning from Israel after making aliyah. It is estimated that up to 10% of the population in the upcoming few years will consist of those that have returned to Europe, but now hold Israeli passports.
That evening, some of us went to a ballet performance of Anna Karenina at the Kiev Opera House. We were able to rent opera glasses which was great to see the amazing choreography, and for spying on those in the richer gallery seats. Others in our group went to a large underground mall and food court for some exploring. A nice older gentleman helped them order delicious pancakes, and they managed to independently return to the hotel without getting lost!
Well, that's another (belated) missive from the Ukraine. The weather continues to hold up and we have not lost any digits to frost bite. Though we do all look like eskimos in the photos. I hope you're looking forward to the slideshow.