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The birth of the «Ukrainian Jew»

The complex history of relations between the Ukrainian and Jewish people, and the parallels that arise with Israel in light of the recent events in Ukraine – these and other topics were raised by participants of the conference «Israel and Ukraine between the past and future», which was held on 27 November in Tel-Aviv

It is remarkable that the conference was held on the same day when a man with an openly Jewish surname, Vladimir Groisman, was elected as the chairman of the Supreme Rada of the eighth convocation, thus closing the “Ukrainian-Jewish” troika of the leaders of the country.

Internet users immediately made jokes about this, and even provided touched-up photos.

The discussion was comprehensive and even scholarly at times, as renowned researchers, journalists, public activists, members of the diplomatic corps participated as speakers and listeners. At the House of Scientists in Tel-Aviv, under the supervision of the sociologist Moshe Kenigshtein, the Shtern readings were held for the sixth year in a row, in memory of the outstanding public and political figure Yury Shtern (1949 – 2007). The event was supported by the Tel-Aviv mayoral office, the Ministry of Absorption and the House of Scientists, as part of the international initiative “Ukrainian-Jewish meetings”.

The conference was entitled “Israel and Ukraine between the past and future”. The choice of topic is understandable – the Ukrainian events have been drawing people’s attention from all over the world for over a year now, and Israel is following them with particular interest: a large community of people from Ukraine lives here.

Additionally, Jews and Ukrainians lived for centuries on the same lands, and they are linked by a complex and long history, which the professor of the Jewish University Volf Moskovich has been studying for a long time. At the conference, he presented the paper “The Ukrainian-Jewish dialogue in the context of history: degrees of mutual understanding”, which took listeners 100 years back into the past, and “walked” them through history once more. The professor spoke both of constructive and successful attempts at mutual understanding, and problematic issues of historical memory, and mutual stereotypes.

The star of the evening was the renowned Ukrainian journalist Vitaly Portnikov. His emotional lecture was devoted to the phenomenon which has become one of the consequences of the “revolution of dignity” – the appearance of “Ukrainian Jews”, who feel themselves to be part of the Ukrainian nation and defend the interests of Ukraine, while at the same time they have their own self-awareness and clear distinguishing features. In Vitaly’s opinion, in the past the Jewish population living in Ukraine was rather part of Polish Jewry, then Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet Jewry. Only now have the communities started to identify themselves as “Ukrainian”.

The journalist also talked about the connection between the countries, the useful experience that Ukraine could borrow from Israel, which has recently overcome, or is continuing to overcome, similar problems. Naturally, Portnikov placed all the hope for international rapprochement with young people – the most active and mobile part of any society, which is the most prepared for changes and reforms.

Another renowned speaker discussed the active participation of the Jewish community in the Ukrainian events of the past year, including the protest campaign of autumn 2013 – winter 2014, the chairman of the Association of Jewish communities and organizations (Vaada) of Ukraine, Iosif Zisels, who among other things is famous for being the first leader of a Jewish organization to support Maidan publicly. In his paper “Ukraine and the Jews in a situation of geopolitical and national choice”, Zisels touched on the participation of the ultra-right in the events on Maidan and displays of anti-Semitism, including ones of a provocative nature, which were seen over the past year. But nevertheless, the head of Vaad looks with optimism at Ukraine’s future, and hopes that the “civilized choice” that the country has made will be consolidated.

The political analyst and expert on radical organizations and anti-Semitism Vyacheslav Likhachev raised the “Jewish question” in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. He analyzed the strategies of propaganda campaigns directed at discrediting the protest movement and the political opposition at the time of the Revolution of Dignity, and under the democratic government after the victory. In his opinion, speculations on anti-Semitism occupy a disproportionate place in these information campaigns. One of the most striking examples is the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin used anti-Semitism, which is supposedly a feature of the new authorities in Kiev, to legitimize the armed aggression, occupation and annexation of part of Ukrainian territory.

Unexpected topics were presented by speakers from Israeli universities.

The professor of Bar Ilan University and the head scholar of the Ministry of Absorption Vladimir (Zeev) Khanin delivered the paper “Israelis in Ukraine and Ukrainians in Israel: migration processes, identity and culture”, where he gave data from sociological studies characterizing Israeli citizens living in Russia and Ukraine, discussing in detail the difference in the motivation, activities and professional status of Israelis who have chosen to live in these countries.

The professor of Haifa University Larisa Fialkova presented the paper “Ukrainian language and folklore from Ukraine to Israel”. For many years, the professor has studied Ukrainian cultural themes in Israel – folklore, the use of the Ukrainian language and elements of Ukrainian culture among new repatriates.

After the completion of the formal program, David Levin, the chairman of the All-Israeli association of immigrants from Ukraine discussed the activity of his organization.



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