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3 posts from July 2007

Pictorial Essay: Yanov, a world that was

During the first 9 days of the Hebrew month of Av, we especially mourn for the destruction of our Holy Temple and our exile. Rebbe Nachman of Breslev says that anywhere Jews live and serve Hashem is holy land as well. As such, this is also the proper time to lament over the Jewish communities around the world that were destroyed. When in the Ukraine recently, I returned to the hometown of my paternal grandfather, Yanov. Half of Yanov's Jews were killed in the pogroms of 1903-1909. My grandfather left the Ukraine for Canada in 1907. The remaining Jews - including many of our cousins - were wiped out by the Nazis in 1942 and are buried in two communal graves of 1000 (Jews of Yanov proper) and 2500 (Jews transported from other areas). There's barely a place in the Ukraine where one can walk without stepping on Jewish blood.

Photo one: The Well on the plot of land that belonged to my family.


Photo two: The Homestead that once belonged to Reb Chatzkel Litvak, ob'm, my great grandfather


Photo 3 - Lake Yanov, where my grandfather used to ice-fish and catch 25-pound carp


Photo 4 - Yanov's 160+ year-old cobblestone street - a road into the past


Photo 5 - The bitter end of Yanov's Jews


Photo 6 - We won! My Chabad friends say, "Didan Notzach." In other words, evil did not succeed in finishing us off. On the contrary, North American assimilation murdered many of my relatives' souls even after they escaped from the Cossacks and from Hitler. Yet, despite it all, here we are back in Yanov, wiping away the break of two generations that slid away from Yiddishkeit, looking, dressing, and acting just like my great grandfather Chatzkel, a Breslover chossid and descendant of Rebbe Itzikel Drovitcher zatza'l. We are certainly the winners, and we shall continue to overcome, by clinging to our unwavering emuna, amen.


The Mass Graves of Yanov

With Hashem's loving grace, my wife, my daughter, and I are safely home in Ashdod after a meaningful, tremendously satisfying, and exhausting trip to the Ukraine, which included 1500 kilometers on the road within the Ukraine.

Tuesday, 3 July is the 17th day of Tammuz, an infamous day of calamity in the Jewish calendar that signifies the beginning of the 3-week period that culminates on Tisha B'Av, the notorious day when both Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. It's no small coincidence that last year's tragic Lebanon War also began on the 17th of Tammuz.

One of the purposes of my trip was attend to the upkeep of the old Jewish cemetary in Yanov, where many of my ancestors are buried. Yanov is a small town, or "shtetyl", that was established in the year 1552, located halfway between Breslov and Berditchev in the central Ukraine. A few famous tzaddikim hail from Yanov, as well as my father's family. About 8 years ago, I began a campaign to save the Jewish cemetary there; two-thirds of it had already become squash and potato fields, ripped off by the locals. With Hashem's help, we succeeded in saving what was left.


In addition, we also established a monument on 2 mass graves from the holocaust.


One of the mass graves, within the bounds of the Yanov cemetary, contains the remains of Yanov's 1,000 Jews. The other mass grave, on the outskirts of town near the railroad crossing, contains the remains of 2,500 Jews that were being deported from other towns. The Nazis stopped the train, let the Jews dig an enormous pit (their own graves), and then shot them all.


Foreground, Yanov train crossing. Background, within the white masonry walls, is a giant mass grave where 2500 Jews dug a huge pit before being shot in the head by the Nazis.

The Nazis could have never completed their task without the cooperation of the locals. To this day, antisemitism is deeply rooted in the hearts of the Ukrainians.


A closer view of the mass pit area. The Ukrainian government tried to steal the show by erecting elaborate monuments of their own, which say in Russian, "Here lie Ukrainian victims of Fascist terror, 1942", with no mention of Jews at all. The Ukrainians are also responsible for the wreaths. Orthodox Jews do not put flowers or wreaths on graves.

The ugliest phenomenon I know is intramural Jewish hate. So many Jews allow themselves the luxury of hating other Jews that don't look and think like they do. I'd like to organize a trip for the haters to come see the mass graves of Jews in the Ukraine; maybe after seeing what other nations did (and still want to do) to us, our misguided brothers and sisters won't allow themselves the luxury of hating each other.

The bad news is that as long as there's no Jewish unity, we can expect many more years of 17 Tammuz and Tisha B'Av headaches. The good news is that if we start acting like loving brothers and sisters to each other, 17 Tammuz and 9 Av will become happy festivals, celebrated in the courtyard of our rebuilt Holy Temple in Jerusalem, amen.

A Rare Glimpse of Chassidic Jerusalem

Emuna Outreach invites you take part in a Chumash Seuda, the celebration when our five year-olds are already reading fluently and begin learning Torah. This off-the-tourist-track clip was filmed live at the Maor Chaim cheder un Jerusalem. The little guy with the eyeglasses is Brody-grandson Yitzchok, the son of Rabbi Ben-Tzion Brody. Enjoy!