Preparing for Passover in Ukraine’s last shtetl

Обговорення подій, новин, які відбуваються у нашому рідному місті та Бершадському районі

Модератори: bershad, Korespondent

Preparing for Passover in Ukraine’s last shtetl

Повідомлення tupacshakaur » 16 березня 2018 17:06

BERSHAD, Ukraine — At first glance, this drab town 160 miles south of Kiev seems nearly identical to the settlements that dot the poverty-stricken district of Vinnitsa.
Shrouded in a seemingly permanent cloud of smoke from wood fires — still the standard means of heating here — Bershad, population 13,000, features two rickety bridges over the polluted (and presently frozen) Dokhna River, roads traversed by Soviet-era clunkers and an utter absence of street lights.
And like many far-flung Ukrainian towns, Bershad, too, has a small, aging Jewish population. The Jews persist here even though almost all of their relatives are living in the relative comfort of Israel or the United States.
But there is more to Bershad than meets the eye.
A closer look at its unique history and architecture reveals something incredible: Bershad is one of Europe’s last remaining shtetls. This town near the Moldavan border, with a Jewish population of 50, is a living testament to the Jewish community’s incredible survival story — one that has endured despite decades of communist repression, the Holocaust and the exodus of Russian-speaking Jews.
Nowhere is the uniqueness of this Jewish community more evident than the Bershad synagogue, which was built from clay 200 years ago.
Incredibly, Soviet authorities returned the white, two-story, tin-roofed building to the town’s Jewish community in 1946, shortly after the Red Army liberated present-day Ukraine from the grip of Nazi Germany and its allies. It was a highly unusual move in a secularist empire that under Joseph Stalin systematically nationalized property of faith communities and routinely persecuted Jews who insisted on practicing their religion.
Coming on the heels of the Nazi genocide, this Soviet policy was a death blow to Jewish life throughout Ukraine’s countryside — once the home of thousands of shtetls — and severely limited it in the large cities.
Yet “at a time where communist repression ended the existence of the few shtetls that by some miracle survived the Holocaust, the existence of a working synagogue in Bershad was the axis of communal life for this shtetl,” said Yefim Vygodner, 64. The town had a Jewish population of some 3,500 in the 1960s.

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