Strengthening links to Podil’s Jewish Past and Future

Posted by: Yaryna Ferencevych, Press Attaché

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Ambassador Pyatt at the Hatikva Reform Synagogue opening
Ambassador Pyatt at the Hatikva Reform Synagogue opening

On September 27, I joined Ambassador Pyatt in Kyiv’s Podil neighborhood for a very special ceremony.  Joined by his Canadian and German counterparts, the Ambassador spoke at the dedication ceremony for the Hatikva Reform Synagogue and its new community center in Kyiv.  In his remarks, the Ambassador acknowledged the congregation’s rabbi, Rabbi Dukhovny, as “a friend and teacher to generations of American ambassadors here in Kyiv.”  Pausing to remember the 72nd anniversary of the massacres at Baby Yar and its victims, he spoke about the history of the Jewish community in Ukraine, its resilience, and how he was inspired by the congregation’s return to its roots in Kyiv’s historic Podil neighborhood.  Reminding participants that “the guiding principles of tolerance, cooperation, and respect for human dignity that are embodied in this center are essential to Americans as well,” the Ambassador told participants he had great expectations for the center and its future work.

Concert at the Hatikva Reform Synagogue opening
Concert at the Hatikva Reform Synagogue opening

The new structure, paid for with donations by three North American families, replaced rental facilities which had served the community for 22 years. The new 4,000 square-foot center has a sanctuary with seating for 150, activity rooms, a library, youth center and kitchenette. After the speeches, the fun began!  Hatikva’s youngest members, approximately 20 of its Kyiv Reform Kindergarten students kicked off the festivities with song and dance, reminding all of us that the Center has a bright future ahead!  A rousing performance by Irina Rosenfeld followed, along with many more expressions of congratulations.

pic2With the new center now open, the Embassy wasted no time in kicking off our cooperative relationship.  Just two weeks later, on October 10, Hatikva hosted the first Ukrainian screening of the film Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness.  The movie, a portrait of a great writer whose stories became the basis of the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof, tells the tale of the rebellious genius who created an entirely new literature. Working in at the end of the 19th century in Western Ukraine, he explored the depths of a Jewish world locked in crisis and on the cusp of profound change and he captured that world with brilliant humor.  In an earlier blog we wrote about the Ambassador’s visit to the building in Lviv that Sholem Aleichem once called home.

According to the film’s director Joe Dorman, Sholem Aleichem was one of the men who shaped a new modern Jewish identity.  After the screening, Dorman, an award-winning independent filmmaker, answered questions and discussed how he made visits to Ukraine during the production of the film and gained a deeper understanding of Jewish and Ukrainian culture, including the many links between the two.  He explained the critical role that Sholem Aleichem’s works played in preserving Jewish identity in the United States, and for Jewish diaspora more broadly.  The Embassy was happy to present the film as an interesting cultural link between the U.S. and Ukraine, but also as an example of Ukraine’s multicultural past, and Ukraine’s Jewish heritage.  In addition to the Hatkiva screening, the Embassy sponsored public presentations of the film in Kyiv and Lviv, which were well attended.

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One Season, Many Holidays – Religious Pluralism in the US

Posted by: Heather Fabrikant, Deputy Cultural Attaché

“We are a nation of many nationalities, many races, many religions – bound together by a single unity, the unity of freedom and equality.” – President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

“For the past four decades, new immigrants have brought to the U.S. not only their dreams of freedom or economic prosperity, but their Bhagavad Gitas and Qur’ans, their images of the Bodhisattva Guan Yin and the Virgin of Guadalupe. We the people wear yarmulkes, headscarves, and turbans now. We build temples, mosques, and gurdwaras.” Diana Eck, Harvard professor, Director of The Pluralism Project

Hanukkah at White House
Hanukkah at White House

Growing up a child of parents of two religious backgrounds, I celebrated not one but two holidays. Being raised worshipping and learning about two separate but linked traditions may seem strange to most, but it is an increasingly frequent phenomenon in America.  A recent survey indicates that among America’s married adults, 37 percent are married to someone from a different religious affiliation. A recent example is Chelsea Clinton’s marriage to Mark Mezvisnsky in July 2010, which was officiated by both a Rabbi and Reverend. While common, there are still mixed feelings in America about interfaith marriages, like that of my parents.

Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa

As a child, my Jewish father and I would go buy a fresh pine tree at the local church bazaar. Usually before Christmas, since Jewish holidays follow the lunar Hebrew calendar, my family lit a menorah for the first of the eight nights of Hanukkah. In my predominately African American junior high school, several classmates taught me about the Kwanzaa holiday, a week-long celebration founded in 1966 to honor African-American heritage.

According to an extensive study on the religious landscape of the US, America is one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world.  The First Amendment of our Constitution prohibits the establishment of a state religion and protects each individual’s freedom to worship as he or she chooses.  Every day, Americans of a wide spectrum of religions, ethnicities and creeds interact and worship in myriad ways. 

For more information about the religious freedom in the US check out the Freedom of Faith ejournal in English and Russian. I’d love to hear what you think!