A roundtable meeting in L'viv of activists, Jewish representatives, NGOs, and local government officials appears to signal new cooperation and possible new, collaborative strategies on Jewish cultural heritage preservation and research in parts of western Ukraine.
JHE friend Marla Raucher Osborn, of the Rohatyn Jewish Heritage project, took part in the meeting and has posted a lengthy report on it -- we are drawing on that report for this post (see her full report for further details).
Attended by around 60 people, the February 9 roundtable took place at the L'viv office of the Honorary Consulate of the State of Israel in Western Ukraine and was sponsored by the L'viv branch of Hesed-Arieh – All-Ukrainian Jewish Charitable Foundation and the L'viv Volunteer Center, an NGO that for several years has been carrying out a Jewish cemetery restoration project in the town of Dobromyl, working together with local Ukrainian residents, local authorities, and also Jewish descendants from the town.
Marla writes that the stated aims of the meeting were to:
-- create a forum to draw attention to the importance of preserving the cultural heritage of the region;
-- discuss existing and planned projects in individual towns;
-- identify ways to facilitate cross-town collaboration and partnerships to better leverage resources and promote common interests; and
-- produce a joint memorandum outlining principles and establishing a working group for regional cooperation and collaboration, dedicated to facilitating these objectives. The memorandum was signed by 15 participating organizations at the conclusion of the meeting.
Marla writes that the working group (including the signatories to the memorandum and other regional heritage activists)
will also provide a forum for sharing information and needs associated with heritage projects, and be a kind of clearinghouse for keeping track of projects, exchanging ideas, sharing information on available grants and other resources, and coordinating multi-town collaborative projects, especially education.
Participants in the meeting included historians, heritage specialists, and educators from L'viv and the region, as well as mayors and representatives from several towns in the Lviv Oblast and elsewhere which have surviving sites of Jewish built heritage: these include Dobromyl, Staryi Sambir, Zolochiv, and Lutsk. Also attending were the Deputy of the L'viv Region State Administration; the regional administration’s Department Director for Culture, Nationalities & Religious Matters; the Deputy Mayor for Development of the City of L'viv; the Director of L'viv’s Center for Urban History of East Central Europe; the Director of the L'viv branch of GIZ GmbH (a German organization active in physical rehabilitation of many of L'viv’s historically significant buildings), plus local and national leaders of the Ukrainian Jewish religious community and representatives from the embassies of Poland and Germany.
Marla reports that discussion was wide-ranging but also focused on specific projects, challenges, and possibilities. Underlying the discussion was the consciousness, expressed at the opening of the session by Vitaliy Nadashkevych of the National Academy of Scientific Development, that:
the vast majority of Jewish cemeteries in western Ukraine are neglected today, lacking nearby Jewish communities with family connections to those buried there. Because of post-War Soviet efforts to erase ethnic identity and physical culture, it is also not uncommon for foreign descendants of pre-war ethnic groups (Jewish, Polish, and others) who visit their ancestral towns in Ukraine to know more about the towns’ multi-cultural history and heritage than the modern local population.
During the discussion, Nadashkevych and Alexander Nazar of the L'viv Volunteer Center noted that based on the experiences of the Lviv Volunteer Center, there are five “pillars” for success (i.e. sustainability) of a Jewish heritage project. These are built on the involvement of:
-- the Ukrainian Jewish community and their representatives
-- the town administration
-- activists and citizens of the local community
-- Jewish descendants abroad, and
-- people with practical experience, for consultation and advice.
The educational value of heritage was also a key point of discussion, and, writes Marla, "Each of the administrative organizations and the NGOs presenting at the roundtable highlighted the educational facets of their projects and methods."
Some of the specific projects and possibilities that were discussed included:
Staryi Sambir, where the Lviv Volunteer Center is organizing a new project in cooperation with the city administration to restore one of the Staryi Sambir synagogues and restore the Jewish cemetery.
Plans are underway for an investigative visit later this month so that both budgetary and architectural plans can be produced. The Mayor of Staryi Sambir described possible uses for the restored building, including as an education and cultural center, noting that the town’s current small regional history museum might be expanded to the renovated synagogue space. The Mayor [expressed] the city’s openness for cooperation with others. The Lviv Volunteer Center also plans to host a work camp clean-up at the Jewish cemetery and synagogue this summer. Some funding has already been identified to support this new project.
Zolochiv. The town mayor described "work that has been accomplished in the last few years to mark Jewish mass graves and assume protection of the Jewish cemetery."
Rohatyn Jewish Heritage, newly-qualified as a Ukrainian NGO, has carried out heritage work over the last six years; projects underway and planned for 2017 include a non-invasive archeological survey of Holocaust-era Jewish mass grave sites scheduled for spring.