Taking stock of 2017: a year in review for the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter

The Ukrainian Jewish Encounter team, from left to right: Co-directors Alti Rodal and Adrian Karatnycky; Board Chairman James C. Temerty C.M.; Board Members Paul Robert Magocsi, Serhii Plokhy, Berel Rodal, Wolf Moskovich; Director of Communications Natalia A. Feduschak; Director of Operations Raya Shadursky; and Board Member Mark J. Freiman. Not pictured: Vladislav Hrynevych, Jr. (Ukraine) and Shimon Briman (Israel).

The motto of the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter proclaims, “Our stories are incomplete without each other.”  At conferences, festivals, book presentations, and other events in which UJE took part, 2017 proved repeatedly that there is more that unites Jews and Ukrainians than divides them.

Fall 2017 witnessed a significant roundtable discussion by scholars who participated in the next phase of UJE’s Shared Historical Narrative Project. Distinguished scholars and experts from around the world gathered at the Pocantico Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund outside New York City to discuss and debate a broad range of issues concerning Jews and Ukrainians during the postwar Soviet period. UJE co-directors Alti Rodal and Adrian Karatnycky conducted the conference, with invaluable input from Harvard University professor of Ukrainian history and UJE board member Serhii Plokhy and several members of UJE's Academic Advisory Council.

A fundamental goal of the Project is to address key issues in the shared and complex history of Ukrainians and Jews. Four roundtable discussions have taken place previously and have engaged a network of almost two hundred experts and scholars in an examination of issues from the sixteenth century to the end of World War II. More roundtables are planned for the future.

UJE continued to explore important historical questions earlier in the summer when the organization not only participated in but also sponsored a group of Ukrainian scholars to attend the 17th World Congress of Jewish Studies. The Congress takes place every four years in Jerusalem and brings together Judaica scholars from around the world. The panel discussion organized by the UJE focused on new historiography — on recent publications treating debated or previously under-researched topics in the history of Ukrainian-Jewish relations from the 17th century to the present.

A continuing effort throughout 2017 was UJE’s promotion of several books published with our organization’s help. Professor Paul Robert Magocsi, Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto and UJE board member, traveled throughout Ukraine and North America, and to Paris, with presentations of the award-winning book Jews and Ukrainians: A Millennium of Co-Existence, which he co-authored with Professor Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern of Northwestern University. A panel of notable scholars held an in-depth discussion about the volume during the 49th annual convention of the Association for Slavic, East European & Eurasian Studies in Chicago this past November.

This year also saw the publication of the Ukrainian-language edition of The Ukrainian-Jewish Encounter: Cultural Dimensions, which is co-edited by Wolf Moskovich, Professor Emeritus at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and UJE board member, and Alti Rodal. Moskovich unveiled the Ukrainian-language edition this autumn at the Meridian Czernowitz International Poetry Festival in the western Ukrainian city of Chernivtsi, and afterwards spoke at one of the many panels organized by the UJE at the Lviv International Book Fair and Literature Festival. The book originally appeared in English in 2016 and is volume 25 in the series Jews and Slavs that has been published by the Hebrew University since 1993.

Awarded a great distinction, Babyn Yar: History and Memory was chosen in 2017 one of the best books of the Lviv International Book Fair and Literature Festival. This collection of essays by internationally-renowned scholars investigates the profound impact of the atrocity of Babyn Yar on society, culture, music, and the arts from Stalinist times to the present. The book was originally published in 2016 as part of UJE’s Babyn Yar Project and is co-edited by Professor Magocsi and Vladislav Hrynevych, Sr. of the Institute of Political and Ethnic Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.

Two other notable volumes were published with UJE’s assistance in 2017. A Key in the Pocket is a collection of essays by Ukrainian writers Yevheniya Senik, Sophia Andrukhovych, and Andriy Lyubka. Ask the Same for Everybody is a collection of poems by the Ukrainian writer Kateryna Babkina translated into Hebrew, which made its debut at the Jerusalem International Book Fair.

Another literary event UJE was pleased to present earlier in the year was a book signing with the outspoken public intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy, held in partnership with the Ukrainian Institute of America in New York City.

In addition to book promotions, UJE also supported literary festivals, including the Lviv International Book Fair and Literature Festival, the International Poetry Festival Meridian Czernowitz and the 2017 PEN International Congress held in Lviv.

UJE’s global outreach was also present in several Limmud FSU events held in North America and Ukraine. Jars Balan, interim director of the Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies, brought to international audiences the incredible story of Rhea Clyman, a Canadian-Jewish journalist who traveled through Soviet Ukraine in the early 1930s and wrote about the Holodomor. Adrian Karatnycky discussed Ukrainian-Jewish relations in the past, present, and future at Limmud FSU Ukraine in Odessa, while other board members, including Berel Rodal, Wolf Moskovich, Paul Robert Magocsi and co-director Alti Rodal, participated in Limmud conferences in North America.

In conjunction with the Limmud FSU conference in Ukraine, UJE supported a special issue of the magazine The Odessa Review that focuses on Ukrainian-Jewish relations. Articles from that issue have started to appear on the UJE website.

UJE also created visual arts exhibitions that promote Ukrainian-Jewish understanding.

“Hasidism on the Territory of Ukraine,” based in part on the popular 2015 traveling community exhibition A Journey through the Ukrainian-Jewish Encounter: From Antiquity to 1914, was on display at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Library for two months near year’s end. It was prepared in conjunction with the Limmud FSU conference on California’s West Coast.

The massive crowds visiting the 2017 Bloor West Village Toronto Ukrainian Festival this fall noticed an exciting new look for the UJE. The newly reconfigured UJE booth featured a compelling array of large informational panels, including texts showcasing the shared cuisine of both peoples, famous Jewish personalities whose roots are in Ukraine, and a large map of Ukraine where visitors could find their family’s hometowns. The exhibition, managed by UJE’s Director of Operations Raya Shadursky, has been a popular festival attraction for the past seven years.

Our Israel office continued successful engagement with local partners in 2017, including the very active non-profit group Israeli Friends of Ukraine. An important discussion was held at the seminar “Jews and Ukrainians: Controversial Issues of Historical Memory” held in Tel Aviv in the fall. The seminar featured speakers and guests from Ukraine, Germany, and Israel.

A seminal event for UJE this year was the opening of an office in Kyiv, thus expanding our presence and activities in Ukraine. The office, under the management of Vladislav Hrynevych, Jr., has been involved in a variety of initiatives, including the international public symposium “Empires, Colonies, and Famine in Comparative Historical Perspective” which took place in the summer.

Work also continued in 2017 on the Return to Dignity project in Sambir, Ukraine. Headed by UJE board member Mark Freiman, the project has as its aim the rehabilitation of the ancient Jewish cemetery in Sambir and of the mass graves of Jewish victims of the Holocaust by Bullets in the cemetery and in the nearby forest at Ralivka.

UJE has continued a very productive relationship throughout 2017 with the Encounters interview program from Ukrainian public broadcaster Hromadske Radio and Nash Holos Ukrainian Roots Radio in Canada. UJE support of other media programs is being planned in the next year.

As 2017 ends, we express our appreciation to James C. Temerty C.M., UJE’s Board Chairman. Without his support, our work would not be possible.

To friends and readers around the world, we wish you a very happy holiday season.

We will return to this space on 11 January 2018.

Natalia A. Feduschak, UJE Director of Communications

Photo: FCharlesPhotography