Ukraine has been and remains a home for many ethnic and religious groups, each of which has left its influence on the culture of the country. But today these communities are decreasing in number and have in some places dissapeared entirely— their heritage sites going unnoticed, lost or forgotten, despite being important parts of Ukraine’s history. One of the most ancient peoples of Ukraine is the Jews, whose heritage is widely represented in many Ukrainian cities and villages in the form of, for example, synagogues and cemeteries. But the question arises, how to best make Jewish cultural heritage accessible and understandable to youth?
On March 4, Artek camp invited ESJF (European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative) head of educational projects Oleksandra Fishel to conduct a class on Ukraine’s Jewish cemeteries for Artek students. 40 teenagers from seven regions of Ukraine (Vinnitsa, Donetsk, Zhytomyr, Odessa, Lviv, Chernihiv and Cherkasy regions) participated in the class.
During the introductory part of the lesson, Mrs. Fishel told the children about the ESJF ’s work in the field of preservation and explained that cemeteries are not only an interesting historical source, but also an important element of the cultural heritage of Ukraine. But even more interesting for the Artek campers was the chance to discover the secrets of Jewish codicology. The teacher shared practical tools with the participants and they learned to recognize images, as well as read Hebrew on mysterious old tombstones. It turns out that the inscriptions on the gravestones can tell us not only the name of the person was buried, but also who the person was during their lifetime.
It is our hope that this educational project will inspire a lifelong interest for these youths in studying and preserving the historical and cultural heritage of the Ukraine as a whole and in their own home regions.
The ESJF’s (European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative) educational projects are co-funded by the European Commission.