“Nostalgic tourism”: Why do foreign Jews go to Western Ukraine?

Summer is an active time for the descendants of various groups of foreign Jews to travel to towns and cities of Ukraine. What drives these people and what are they seeking on Ukrainian soil?

In July 2018, the Korets district of the Rivne region was visited by two groups of Jews from around the world (mainly citizens of Canada, the United States, and Israel). And this is not surprising, because this area of ​​the region was historically in the “Pale of Settlement” of the Jewish population.

Bohdana Brukhliy, chief specialist of culture and tourism of the Korets district state administration, told the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter: “This is representative of the so-called “nostalgic tourism,” since the main purpose of the visit is to see the burial places of ancestors, research the genealogy of their families and habitats, or to immerse into the atmosphere of small towns and villages that evoke their childhood.”

Such tourists visited Korets in July 2018 to search for archival data relating to the Fox and Gurben families living in Korets before the Holocaust, as well as to find their burial place. This is not the first family whose searches succeeded. On July 26, their descendants arrived in Korets to pay homage to their ancestors. An excursion to the museum, as well as places connected with the Jewish culture of the city, was organized for them. They were able to visit the graves of the tzadiks in the Jewish cemetery and read a memorial prayer for the dead in the ravine of Shytnia.

On 26-27 July 2018, the Korets district was also visited by the organization of “Korets Jews in Israel and Abroad,” headed by Moishe Yaronsky. Members of this organization annually visit the site of massacres of Korets Jews from the Holocaust period in Shytnia, Sukhovol, Kozak, and Velyki Mezhirichi.

The Korets district cooperates closely with the organization “Korets Jews in Israel and Abroad”. A joint exhibition devoted to Judaism and the history of Korets Jews was created on a joint initiative with the Korets District Historical Museum, and the memories of the first generation of repatriates, which form the basis of academic works, are being collected. They are actively used in the educational process in schools. These stories formed the basis of tourist routes and thematic excursions along the Korets district.

“We cannot forget our history, and in order for each nation to build a future, it needs to comprehend and incorporate the lessons of a negative history, to conduct the process of research impartially, and to draw conclusions that will lead to qualitative social changes,” says Bohdana Brukhliy, who believes Jewish heritage is an important part of the cultural diversity and historical and tourist richness of the Korets district in which she operates.

Also, in July 2018 a solemn opening of a memorial on the site of the former synagogue was held in the village of Velyki Mezhyrichi of the Korets district.

Haifa resident Meir Turbovich, who was at this ceremony with his wife, told the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter that this idea was born long ago among the representatives of the “Entrants from Mezhyrich in Israel” organization and was only waiting for financial and legal support for implementation. Local authorities have contributed to this in every way.

This memorial sign was erected in the form of a symbolic wall on which there is a short history of the Jews of Mezhyrich, in particular, mention of the activities of the Dov Ber of Mezhyrich, the size of the Jewish community of the village in different periods, and mass shootings on the site of Tsehtoelnya. The opening was attended by twelve members of the “Entrants from Mezhirich in Israel,” UJE Board Member Berel Rodal, UJE Co-Director Alti Rodal, the chairman of the village, and local citizens.

Berel Rodal (UJE, Canada) and Israel Zineman (Israel) in Mezhyrich.

Another Jewish American delegation, led by Rabbi Shmuel Herzberg from Washington, D.C., visited Rivne, Rohatyn, and Lviv. Unfortunately, near the city of Rivne, the delegation found excavated graves at the site of the execution of local Jews. Unknown vandals did not leave the victims of the Holocaust in peace, and this outraged the foreign guests.

During their visit in Lviv, City Mayor Andriy Sadovyi discussed with Rabbi Herzberg the issue of preserving the Jewish heritage of the capital of Galicia.

Text: Shimon Briman (Israel).
Edited by Peter Bejger.
Photos: Bohdana Brukhliy and Meir Turbovich.