Boris Lozhkin and the Jewish renaissance in Ukraine

The Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, which Lozhkin heads, has been in existence for 20 years and serves as an umbrella organization to protect the interests of the Jewish community in Ukraine.

BORIS LOZHKIN, president of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, at the 2019 Kyiv Jewish Forum.  (photo credit: JCUL)
BORIS LOZHKIN, president of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, at the 2019 Kyiv Jewish Forum.
(photo credit: JCUL)
‘For centuries,” says Boris Lozhkin, president of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, “Ukraine was one of the most vibrant religious centers of Jewish life in the world.”
The hasidic movement was born in Ukraine, he points out – and at the beginning of the 20th century, one out of every four Jews in the world was living in Ukraine. In 1917, when the first Ukrainian republic issued banknotes, they were printed in three languages – Russian, Ukrainian and Yiddish! In 1917, Jews comprised almost 20% of the population of Kyiv, and in many towns and villages Jews constituted more than half of the population.
Tragically, more than 1.5 million Jews were killed by Nazi death squads in western Ukraine during World War II. The most infamous massacre of Jews in Ukraine was at the Babyn Yar ravine outside Kyiv, where 33,771 Jews were killed on September 29-30, 1941.
With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine became an independent country. The Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, which Lozhkin heads, has been in existence for 20 years and serves as an umbrella organization to protect the interests of the Jewish community in Ukraine, preserve the history and culture of the Jewish community in Ukraine, promote Ukrainian Jewry throughout the world and combat antisemitism.
In addition to serving as president of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, Boris Lozhkin also is a vice president of the World Jewish Congress and the Eurasian Jewish Congress and works intensively with the European Jewish community. In 2019, the first inaugural Kyiv Jewish Forum was held, bringing together over 500 leaders from Israel, the United States, Europe and Ukraine to debate and discuss the most pressing issues for Ukrainian and global Jewry.
THIS WEEK, the second Kyiv Forum was held online, in partnership with The Jerusalem Post. The conference was opened by Boris Lozhkin and featured addresses by leading world figures, including Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine, Benjamin Gantz, Alternate Prime Minister of Israel, Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, Elan Carr, US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, and human rights activist Natan Sharansky, among others.
Participants in the online conference participated in a wide variety of fascinating panel discussions, including the legacy of Babyn Yar, the Iranian threat, Jewish leadership in the fight against COVID-19, the state of antisemitism in Ukraine, honoring the memory of the Babyn Yar victims, and many other thought-provoking topics. The conference was broadcast online on the Jerusalem Post site on September 8-9.
Lozhkin says that today Ukraine is regarded as the least antisemitic country in central Europe, and is a much more open and accepting society.
“The relationship between Jews and Ukrainians is very tolerant, and it is a safe country for Jews,” he says. “We have seen a renaissance of Jewish life in Ukraine,” says Lozhkin. “The Ukrainian Jewish community is very active. There are many Jewish organizations – both religious and non-religious. There are Jewish centers, Jewish schools and kosher restaurants.” Lozhkin estimates that the Jewish population of Ukraine today is approximately 200,000.
VISITING Anatevka (from left): Lozhkin; Mark Levin, executive vice chairman and CEO of the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry; and Ukraine’s Chief Rabbi Moshe Azman. (Credit: JCUL)VISITING Anatevka (from left): Lozhkin; Mark Levin, executive vice chairman and CEO of the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry; and Ukraine’s Chief Rabbi Moshe Azman. (Credit: JCUL)
One of the most significant projects that the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine has undertaken is its “Righteous Among the Nations Project.” Lozhkin says that there are more than 2,600 Ukrainians among Yad Vashem’s listing of non-Jewish who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
“I thought that Ukrainians should know more about these heroes, especially because they were not Jewish,” says Lozhkin. “It is very important both for Ukrainians and Jews to promote these heroes who were against xenophobia and hatred.”
To that end, Lozhkin and the Confederation decided to honor these notable Ukrainians by having streets and public squares in the cities named in their honor in the cities and towns where they lived. The Confederation contacted the mayors of towns and villages to encourage them to name a street and square in their city after these righteous individuals. To date, he says, 22 streets in Ukraine have been named after Ukrainian heroes who risked their lives to save Jews, with the ultimate goal to name 100 streets throughout the country after righteous Ukrainian gentiles. Lozhkin says that the naming of streets after Ukrainians who assisted Jews is a great lesson of tolerance and education.
“It teaches a great lesson that there was a Holocaust because there might be young people in Ukraine who know nothing about it. We need to teach young people that there was such a tragedy, but that in this tragedy, there were Ukrainians who were tolerant.”
The Confederation plans to publish a book with stories and profiles of the 2,619 Ukrainian righteous gentiles. Lozhkin is hopeful that Yad Vashem will accept the name of Andrei Sheptytsky, as one of the righteous gentiles. Sheptytsky, who was the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, saved nearly 150 Jews in Western Ukraine.
LOZHKIN CHAIRED the committee for organizing the 75th Anniversary of the Babyn Yar tragedy and says that it is vital that a memorial is built at the site of the ravine where the mass murders took place.
“It is extremely important to build a memorial,” he says, “not only for the Jewish community, but for Ukraine and the world, because we must never forget the consequences of hatred. It is very important for Ukrainian society never to become indifferent.”
Another project of interest that the Boris Lozhkin charitable foundation is assisting is the Anatevka project. Named after the mythical village of Anatevka from the stories of Shalom Aleichem, Anatevka was created by Ukraine’s chief rabbi Moshe-Reuvan Azman outside Kyiv for Jewish refugees who fled the violence in eastern Ukraine. Thousands of Jewish men, women, children and elderly escaped but lost everything in the process. The Jewish community of Kyiv is helping to develop a community and provide housing, jobs, education, health care, stability – and meet the spiritual needs of Jews in distress by building and maintaining the village.
Beyond the conference, Lozhkin and the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine will continue its vital work, supporting the State of Israel, combating antisemitism in Ukraine, supporting Jewish communities throughout Ukraine and helping to ensure Jewish continuity in a country with a long and rich Jewish past.
This article was published on the occasion of the Kyiv Jewish Forum organized by the JCU in partnership with the JPost.