“Jews and Ukrainians: A Millennium of Co-Existence” Presented at the Munk School of Global Affairs


The Ukrainian Jewish Encounter undertook a global tour to promote books sponsored by the organization. Reports on events related to that tour will appear on UJE’s website. The following is a synopsis and full video presentation of a symposium that took place in Toronto on Oct. 27, 2016. 

The book Jews and Ukrainians: A Millennium of Co-Existence, co-authored by Paul Robert Magocsi and Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, was presented at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs on October 27, 2016.  A panel of scholars, including the Yiddishist, Anna Shternshis who is Director of the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto, Ori Yehudai, Department of History at the University of Toronto, and the historian Frank Sysyn of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta, joined the authors in an engaging discussion of the book’s themes and participated in a question-and-answer period with the audience.


8:43 – 27:27
Shternshis underlined the importance of incorporating the female experience in historical studies, making special reference to the violence women suffered during periods of upheaval in Ukraine.


27:27 – 39:24
Yehudai pointed out the book raises broader issues of the role of violence and memory in national culture and the ties between diaspora groups and their homelands. He noted the book offered a useful comparative perspective in viewing Ukrainian-Jewish relations in the context of the historical Jewish experience in other parts of Europe. One striking difference with Western Europe was that Jews did not live under Ukrainian rule for most of the twentieth century, as there was no Ukrainian state. Both Jews and Ukrainians shared the status of a powerless minority whose fate was determined by more powerful outside forces.


39:24 - 53:45
Sysyn discussed the traditional paradigms that defined Ukrainian and Jewish visions of Ukraine, paradigms formed by historical events in the early modern period and in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The paradigms contain clashing views of the role of modernization, emancipation, and the definition of nation and state, and have fueled hostility and tensions between the two communities. However, continued research has provided much additional information that has undermined these traditional paradigms. And this volume is a breakthrough because two eminent scholars have challenged us to engage the “Other” fully and to see other perspectives.


53:57 – 1:10:06
Petrovsky-Shtern provided a moving account of how he “discovered” Ukraine and re-directed his career to the study of Ukrainian-Jewish relations. A series of visitors from Canada and Israel prompted him to engage with Ukrainian political and cultural figures working to enhance Ukrainian-Jewish ties and to discover the bibliographic treasures of the Jewish heritage in Ukraine. A key turning point for him was witnessing, along with a visiting Israeli rabbi, two young people confused by the plaques at the “official Soviet” monument at Babyn Yar and misidentifying the Yiddish-language text. He was appalled, and then determined to address the issue of memory and commemoration.


Magocsi forthrightly lamented the fact that there has been so much discussion of Jews and Ukrainians as victims and the tragedies of history while neglecting the arts and culture of both peoples. “We have had so much of disaster and death. What does that tell us about life?” he asked. For Magocsi the arts and culture are the “mortars of civilization and life.” The goal of the book was to offer people a way to look at a stereotypical view of the past and to draw readers into all aspects of the culture.


In remarks to the audience during the question-and-answer period, Berel Rodal, one of the founders of the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter, who chairs the organization’s Advisory Board, noted that one of the main tasks of the UJE is to enable positive, fruitful work in the present and the future, by Jews and Ukrainians together, whether in the Diaspora, in Ukraine or Israel.  This requires shining a bright light on our history so that we understand it, that we understand ourselves as well as the “Other”. He observed that one of the great gifts of the book is enabling Jews to look at the story of Ukrainians and Ukrainians to look at the story of Jews. As for the story of World War II and difficult parts of the history, that story still needs to be told, and it will be one of the objectives of the UJE to bring together the world's top historians to enable that story to be told – accurately, truthfully, and empathetically.