13 December 2009, 14:59 | Major Religions | 0 |   | Code for Blog |  | 

The information below is adapted from the website of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine (www.fjc.ru/ukrainefr.htm)

Ukraine contains the third-largest Jewish community in Europe and the fifth-largest Jewish community in the world. The majority of Ukrainian Jews live in four large cities: Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, and Odesa. Despite the limitations imposed on them by various governments and regimes throughout modern history, Jews played a major role in developing Ukraine's commerce and industry as well as the major urban environments of Ukraine.

The Jews within the boundaries of present-day Ukraine share their heritage with all of East European Jewry, especially those Jews of Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Romania. Jews in these lands in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries developed various forms of religious and national identities that allowed the Jewish community to adapt to the changing social and political environment in the area before 1939. While many Jews in the area were adherents of Hasidism, an eighteenth century pietist religious movement, others were attracted to the ideals of the Jewish enlightenment, or Haskalah, that allowed for entrance into modern, non-Jewish society and the continuation of an identification with the Jewish community.

At the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, the Jews of Eastern Europe participated increasingly in modern political parties, both Zionist and socialist. Zionists worked toward the development of a Jewish state in Palestine and toward the development of Hebrew culture in Eastern Europe. The Bund, a party of Jewish workers, was a unique attempt to combine the ideals of socialism with Jewish nationalism. While the most radical Jewish political leaders rejected traditional Jewish religious practice, Jewish religious ideals were an essential part of these movements for many leaders and participants.

Yiddish was the language spoken by the overwhelming majority of East European Jews. Many of the most important writers of modern Yiddish literature lived and worked in the lands of present-day Ukraine, especially in the cities of Odesa, Kyiv, Lviv, and *Chernivtsi. These include Mendele Mocher Sforim and Sholem-Aleykhem, both of whom spent long periods of time in Odesa. Their works reflect the changing social, political, and economic realities of the traditional East European Jewish community.

The Jews made up a significant percentage of the total number of people living on Ukrainian lands before World War II. More than half the Jews living in Ukraine were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. The repression of Jewish life under Soviet rule was especially harsh. Today the Ukrainian Jews enjoy new-found freedoms that are allowing them to rebuild and revitalize their communities.

Sean Martin also contributed to the preceding text. He is a historian of East European Jewry from Cleveland, Ohio (USA), and was a Fulbright Scholar in Lviv in 2002.

Yaakov Dov Bleich is Chief Rabbi of Kyiv and all Ukraine.

For further information see The Jewish Foundation of Ukraine website and Ukrainian Jewish Congress


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