What is Ukrainian Jewish heritage today?

Written By Deborah Haupt

14. June 2022

The Jewish history in modern-day Ukrainian territory started approximately two thousand years ago. There were wars, changes in political regimes, antisemitic and non-antisemitic policies, and changing national borders, but still, a Jewish community was existing and was flourishing in many ways. However, researchers confidently declare that the Ukrainian Jewish community is one of the oldest in the world.

The walls of old Ukrainian cities are keeping stories about famous and wealthy Jewish families as well as Shalom-Aleichem’s books telling us about poor Ashkenazi Jews.

What is important to know about how the Jewish community that was developing in Ukraine? For example, a revival movement Hasidism originated and flourished in Ukrainian lands. Also, in the 17th century, Ukraine was a center for Hebrew and Yiddish publishing. Ukraine had and because of WWII lost many architecturally unique wood synagogues. A beautiful musical tradition of Ashkenazi Jews was also developing in Ukrainian territory. And we can talk for hours about those Ukrainian Jews who are now on the wall of fame of the world Jewish community.

The anti-Jewish pogroms at the end of the 19th century and the Holocaust had a destroying effect on Jewish identity — so many Jews who survived were trying to lose their self-identity just for safety. Strictly Soviet Union’s antisemitic policy has contributed to forbidding a brightly Jewish life.

Basically, in modern independent Ukraine, we can see a renaissance of the Jewish community, as many orthodox rabbis keep talking about.

It is important to know that before World War II, 2.35 million Jews were living in the Soviet republic of Ukraine. And after the end of the war, there were 850 thousand Jews. The numbers are so approximate.

In the post-war period, according to every decade’s census in Ukraine (till 2006), the Jewish population had steadily decreased. The official statistics tell us that in 2006 there were 108 556 Jews. This is the last official statistics.

In 2019 the vice-premier of Ukraine said that more than 120,000 Jews and people with Jewish family roots live in Ukraine.

There is a few strong religious and cultural Jewish community in Ukraine — they are based in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Dnipro. For example, in Lviv Jewish community is developing so fast, but mostly in a cultural way. Nowadays there are 40 active synagogues.

Because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, all modern information is more or less relevant to the 2021 year. For example, lately, we can talk about the new Ukrainian aliyah caused by war.

Kristina Golomakh-Meir

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