Early morning we arrived at Babi Yar , the place where nearly 34,000 Jews were slaughtered in just two days. On this snowy and gloomy day we walked in the path  of our ancestors. As opposed to us, they did not know where they were walking to. Innocently they thought that at the end of this path awaits something good, they expected to be taken to a better place. At the monument we read kaddish and Izkor and unsuccessfully tried to light some candles. While there, we encountered many passer- bys who did not seem interested in our presence. “Many of them,” said Dasha, “are not aware of the terrible thing that took place here a little more than 70 years ago.” Today, in the place of the biggest human grave stand thousands of trees. The Jewish blood turned the soil  fertile. For me, trees are a sign of life, which seems paradoxical in a place like this, but in fact it is not. Even though, the Nazis took the lives of our people they did not manage to take our souls and spirits. Israel, similar  to these trees, is a reminder of that. Despite everything, we won.

After Babi yar, we continued to the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. There we were exposed to another, totally different perspective of those horrible years. We learned that 60 million people were killed during the Second World War, 27 of them were Soviets and 9 million were Ukranians. 298- this was the number of widows found in just one small village in Ukraine, “this”, said our guide, “is the face of the war.” Our tour ended near “the cross of reconciliation”, a cross that was comprised of both German and Soviet weapons. It symbolizes that in this war there were no winners- it was the biggest lesson of this war.

The second part of our day was much lighter, we were fortunate to have lunch with Rabbi Alex Dukhovny, Ukraine’s Chief Reform Rabbi. He taught us that the Reform movement existed in Ukraine  as early as the 19th century and that he is just here to rebuild it.  Today, he oversees 47 Reform congregations in the country. He considers religion to be about politics and Judaism to be about the spirit. He is Rabbi Dukhovny (in Russian means spiritual), the Rabbi of the spirit.

We then visited the Kyiv-Mohlya Academy which runs an M.A. and  a certificate program in Jewish Studies…the only ones in Ukraine. They study classic Jewish texts, Hebrew, and other courses in their areas of interest. Many teachers and many students are not Jewish. There are just small numbers of each. But the education is free, and the Jewish director suggested it is a good thing for Ukrainians to also own a part of Jewish-Ukrainian history, shatter stereotypes, and make this history more broadly known.

Our day ended with a beautiful Ballet performance at the magnificent National Opera House  and a fancy dinner at our Hotel. With that, we say goodbye to Kiev and are getting ready to embark on our way to Odessa!


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