JTA last week ran a nice story by Dina Kraft about an initiative to document and rescue Jewish heritage sites in western Ukraine, with the help of local Ukrainians. One of the Israeli experts is Vladimir Levin, whom I met last year in Vilnius, when we both took part in a seminar organized by the Lithuanian Culture Ministry about how to deal with Jewish heritage in Lithuania.
Levin, a 39-year-old immigrant to Israel from St. Petersburg, Russia, is part of a team of Israeli historians attempting to document what remains of a once populous and vibrant Jewish life in the regions of Galicia and Bukovina, most of which is in the western edge of present-day Ukraine.
As part of efforts to recover the world that once was in these towns and shtetls, where some 1 million Jews lived before the Holocaust, the researchers are partnering with Ukrainian academics. The idea is not only to boost the level of scholarship but to highlight to Ukrainian locals a Jewish past that spanned centuries but is rarely remembered publicly in the country.
"Jewish history is not part of the agenda” in Ukraine, said Yaroslav Hrystak, director of graduate studies at the Ukrainian Catholic University, which has partnered with the Israeli researchers. “It's like a whole subject that disappeared.”
The project aims to collect oral testimony and document cemeteries and synagogues left derelict or used for such purposes as canning factories to storage space, and enlist young Ukrainian historians to do Jewish-related scholarship. An online database has been established on the project's website to make the research widely accessible. The project also has set up a scholarship for Ukrainian graduate students to spend a year at Hebrew University to learn Jewish history, Hebrew and Yiddish.
"Records are being lost in front of us, and so the goal is collection and preservation," said David Wallach, a professor of molecular biology at Israel’s Weizmann Institute who is among the group of families that helped establish a fund called the Ludmer Project to help pay for the research.