Sites in Jewish Galicia being documented by Hebrew U. team

ByGIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
July 21, 2010 04:43

Scholars depart for Ukraine on mission to preserve area's rich history.




TOMBSTONES IN the neglected Jewish cemetery of Bolechow in the Ukrainian part of Galicia.

Galicia 311. (photo credit:Vladimir Levin)

An expedition of Israeli scholars departed Monday for Ukraine on a mission to preserve the rich Jewish history of Galicia, a rural province split between that country and Poland, and which holds an almost mythical place in Jewish memory as the home of mystics and meshuganas.

Over the next month, participants will gather information about extinct Jewish communities in the Ukrainian part of the area, photographing decaying synagogues and cemeteries and posting their findings on to the expedition’s Web site, at www.jewishgalicia.net.

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“For the past two years we’ve been focusing on documenting Jewish buildings in the Ukrainian part of Galicia, which are in total neglect,” said Dr. Semion Goldin, director of the Leonid Nevzlin Research Center for Russian and East European Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“Many impressive sites still remain. However, we cannot preserve them all, so we’ve decided to document them before they disappear.”

The expedition will be headed by Dr. Vladimir Levin and focus on the area surrounding the city of Nadworna.

Galicia’s Jewish communities were some of the poorest and most religious on the continent. The stereotypical Galicianer often depicted in Jewish literature is a devout, happy-go-lucky simpleton who always has a smile on his face.

Despite this image, the area produced many prominent Jews, including Nobel Prize laureate Shmuel Yosef Agnon, screenwriter Billy Wilder and acting teacher Lee Strasberg. It was also the origin of several hassidic dynasties, including Belz and Bobov.

The Jewish communities of Galicia, however, were decimated during World War II. Many survivors chose to emigrate or move to bigger cities.

“There are some Jewish communities left in the area’s big cities, but it is very, very rare to come across a Jew in any of these former shtetls,” Goldin said. “On the few occasions we do it’s always very emotional.”

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