Ukrainian Jewish Encounter: more important than ever

Ukrainians and Jews have lived side-by-side on the territory of modern-day Ukraine for nearly two millennia. Separately and together, they have woven a tapestry that has left an indelible mark on Ukraine’s cultural, linguistic, and historical legacy. This cross-cultural legacy has remained largely unknown to the international community and is often seen through the prism of Russian or Soviet history, even though Ukraine has been an independent country since 1991. 

Ukrainian Jewish Encounter (UJE), a Canadian charitable nonprofit organization, was founded in 2008 to deepen the understanding of the breadth, complexity, and diversity of Ukrainian-Jewish relations over the centuries, with a view towards the future. 

Through a plethora of initiatives that include international conferences, exhibitions, book publications, and cultural festivals, UJE and its partners have shed new light on the Ukrainian-Jewish experience. These initiatives addressed stereotypes about each other by promoted awareness of periods of peaceful co-existence, cooperation, and cross-cultural interaction. They have also facilitated greater understanding of periods of crisis—the Holocaust, the 1930s Stalin-induced Holodomor, Communism—and honoured victims of Nazism and Communist rule. 

Several important UJE initiatives stand out in bringing greater awareness to Ukrainian-Jewish experiences. 

In cooperation with the World Jewish Congress, the Government of Ukraine, and other Ukrainian-Jewish and diaspora organizations, UJE sponsored a series of public events to mark the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Babyn Yar in 2016. Events included a youth conference, a public symposium, a design competition to create an appropriate memorial space on the terrain of Babyn Yar, and a commemorative concert.  

Another, is that UJE dedicated significant effort to advancing international recognition of the legacy of the legendary Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church leader Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, one of the towering Ukrainian leaders of the twentieth century. During World War II he helped save more than 150 Jewish lives. The Metropolitan sheltered Jews in his residence in Lviv at significant personal risk and arranged for church monasteries to protect well over 100 Jewish children. Not one of them was betrayed or lost.  

Recipients of the Sheptytsky Award include Ukrainian writer and scholar Ivan Dziuba, who recently passed away. He risked imprisonment at the 25th anniversary of Babyn Yar, when he called for an honest telling of its history. The other recipients of the award included Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress; and Ukrainian-Jewish businessman Victor Pinchuk, who regularly supported a host of Ukrainian cultural initiatives. 

Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine has made UJE’s mission more important than ever. We are grateful that many individuals we have worked with over the years are on the front lines of the information war against President Vladimir Putin’s absurd and illegitimate claims that Ukraine needs to be “de-Nazified.” International thinkers and historians Timothy Snyder, Serhiy Plokhii, Anne Applebaum, Yaroslav Hrytsak; journalists David Frum, Vladislav Davidzon, and others are repeatedly debunking this myth. Their insights and those of others shared at previous UJE conferences are now part of the international discourse.

We are heartened that people like Nobel Prize laureate Roald Hoffman are engaged in the Ukrainian-Jewish encounter. Hoffman was the driving force behind an open letter signed by more than 200 Nobel Prize laureates, recently published in leading publications internationally in cooperation with the Ukrainian World Congress, calling for peace and denouncing Russia’s criminal war against Ukraine.

This is a period of unprecedented challenges. We are, however, convinced the Ukrainian-Jewish encounter will strengthen and play an instrumental role in rebuilding Ukraine at the war’s end.


Recommended UJE-supported reads to be better acquainted with Ukrainain-Jewish relations:

“Jews and Ukrainians: A Millennium of Co-Existence,” co-authored by Paul Robert Magocsi of the University of Toronto, who is also a UJE Board Member, and Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern of Northwestern University

“Babyn Yar: History and Memory,” co-edited by Prof. Magocsi and Vladyslav Hrynevych, Sr. of Ukraine’s Kuras Institute for Political and Ethnic Studies

“The Ukrainian-Jewish Encounter: Cultural Dimensions,” co-edited by UJE Co-Director Alti Rodal and UJE Board Member Wolf Moskovich, Professor Emeritus of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. Mrs. Rodal also curated the traveling community exhibition “A Journey Through the Ukrainian-Jewish Encounter: From Antiquity to 1914,” displayed in Canada and Ukraine. Her exhibition catalog is available on UJE’s website.

Header image design by Clarrie Feinstein.

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