Fwd: JTA - In southwestern Ukrainian city,Jewish life isn't what it used to be

From: Bruce Reisch <bir1_at_nysaes.cornell.edu>
Date: Mon, 3 Feb 2003 13:26:01 -0500
To: czernowitz-l_at_cornell.edu
Reply-To: bir1_at_nysaes.cornell.edu

<x-flowed iso-8859-1>I'm forwarding to the Czernowitz list two articles from www.jta.org
with information about the status of Jews in Chernovtsy today.


--- begin forwarded text

Subject: JTA - In southwestern Ukrainian city,Jewish life isn't what
it used to be
Date: Sat, 1 Feb 2003 08:10:33 -0500
X-OriginalArrivalTime: 01 Feb 2003 13:10:33.0699 (UTC)
Status: RO

Following is an article from JTA — The Global News Service of the
Jewish People. For in-depth coverage of the latest developments
affecting Jews all over the world, click:

In southwestern Ukrainian city,
Jewish life isn't what it used to be
By: Lev Krichevsky

CHERNOVTSY, Ukraine, Jan. 27 (JTA) - Once, local residents say, every
street sweeper in Chernovtsy could speak five languages, including

        This anecdote, whether true or not, illustrates the city's
cosmopolitan past.

        A Jewish visitor also learns that the song "Hava Nagilah"
apparently began in Czernowitz - as the city was once known in
Yiddish - and is actually based on a local folk tune.

        Today, Chernovtsy - or Chernivtsi in the modern Ukrainian
spelling - is a provincial town in southwestern Ukraine. The city's
streets stay dark at nights - a sign of Ukraine's continuing energy

        But during the day, a visit through town sheds a lot of light
on its past.

        For nearly 150 years, Chernowitz - to use the German spelling
- was the capital of Bukovina, the easternmost province of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire. For its many architectural gems and rich
cultural life, this city earned itself the nickname "Little Vienna."

        About one-third of the local Jewish population of 50,000
survived the Holocaust because the Romanian forces that occupied the
region did not seek to annihilate the entire Jewish population.

        Since the emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel and the United
States began in the 1970s - and especially as a result of the mass
aliyah of the 1990s - the story of Chernovtsy Jewry is the tale of an
ongoing demographic decline.

        "I remember how walking along this street on a weekend
evening would take me a couple hours - I saw Jewish friends on every
corner," says Bronislav Tutelman, 52, a local artist, standing on
Kobylyanskaya Street, the city's main drag.

        Some would take a stroll for other reasons. Even in the
1970s, many Chernovtsy Jews already had relatives abroad. The weekend
promenade was their fashion show, Tutelman recalls.

        "People were showing off the clothes their relatives sent
them from abroad," he says.

        Jews are still leaving Chernovtsy, though in more modest numbers.

        "Some leave just to move elsewhere, doesn't matter where.
It's mostly because of the bad economy," says Noah Kofmansky, the
town's only resident rabbi and a native of Chernovtsy. "On a recent
visit to Germany, I had a feeling I was in Chernovtsy - there are so
many people that came from here."

        Kofmansky, 57, holds a degree in physics from Moscow State
University. He defected from the Soviet Union 20 years ago while
attending an academic event in the United States.

        Seven years ago, when it became clear that not everyone would
leave, he came back to his hometown with a rabbinic diploma.

        Today, Chernovtsy has about 3,000 Jews out of a total
population of 190,000.

        The community is served by one active synagogue with a minyan
of mostly elderly Jews.

        Although three major Chasidic dynasties hail from the area -
Vizhnitser, Sadagorer and Boyaner - Chernovtsy's Jewish history is
primarily a secular one, led by German-speaking Reform Jews whose
main synagogue, known as Tempel, was among the most magnificent
buildings in town.

        By the middle of the 19th century, Czernowitz was known as
the community with the highest proportion of assimilated Jews among
the major Eastern European communities.

        Despite efforts to revive Judaism as a religion in
post-Soviet Ukraine, the majority of Jews here remain secular.

        Most of those who take part in Jewish life participate in
social and cultural programs.

        On a recent Sunday morning, two boys romped around the
Chernovtsy Jewish center.

        Zhenya Vasilenchuk, 5, says he and his 4-year-old cousin,
Lesha Shmukler, come here every Sunday.

        The boys are among the couple dozen preschoolers whom parents
bring to the center once or twice a week to play, watch videos or
celebrate Jewish holidays.

        On weekdays mothers can drop their kids here for a few hours
to go shopping or do household chores, says Tanya Kantemir, 27, who
runs a kindergarten-type project called Mazel Tov.

        There is also a full-time kindergarten, called Chaverim, at a
separate location. Twenty-six children are currently enrolled in the

        These projects are among many programs run by the Hesed
Shushana welfare center, the leading Jewish organization in

        The center, which operates on funds it receives from the
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, opened few years ago
with a primary goal of supplying the impoverished elderly Jews that
constitute about one-third of the community with meals, medical care,
home visits and library programs.

        As the community matured, the Chernovtsy center - like many
other similar centers throughout the former Soviet Union - developed
a number of programs to encourage social ties among the largely
secular and unaffiliated Jewish population.

        "People can come with virtually all their needs," says
Vladimir Zatulovsky, director of community programs at Hesed
Shushanah. "We try to build programs that speak to the entire family,
like a family-type kindergarten or a family club."

        If many adults still do not always feel comfortable taking
part in social programs, "the kids are adjusting easily and quickly,"
Zatulovsky says.

        But in fact, Jewish kids are becoming a rarity in Chernovtsy.

        In that sense, the month of November was exceptional for the
Jewish community - although few people are aware of that.

        "One of our Jewish families just had a child," says the
director of Hesed Shushana, Leonid Fuks. "This is good news for us.
That doesn't happen too often lately."

        He added that his organization records four to five deaths
among its elderly clients each month.

        The Jewish community's problems reflect the general
demographic decline in this part of Ukraine.

        The town, known as a rich and leisurely community in the
past, has virtually no industry. Most of the industrial plants that
were opened here under Communist rule have significantly downsized in
post-Soviet years. Some were closed altogether.

        Recent research by Gallup shows that Ukraine will need more
than a decade and over $50 billion in investments to return to the
economic level it had in 1990, its last year before independence.

        "If we had a better economy, many young Jews would have
stayed," Rabbi Kofmansky says.

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--- end forwarded text

Received on 2003-02-03 13:33:29

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