Thursday, September 15, 2016

At Hatikvah, Kiev Ukraine Saturday Sept 10, 2016

At Hatikvah, Kiev Ukraine
Saturday Sept 10, 2016
by Aaron Ginsburg

Rabbi Marc Mandel asked me to write about my experiences while I visit the Ukraine, Belarus, and Israel. On Shabbat I was in Kiev, Ukraine. I visited the Ukraine to see some of the sights in Kiev, and visit the shtetlach where my mother Dorothy Pokross Ginsburg’s parents were born. 

My grandfather, Jacob Pokross( Pokrassa), was born in Gorodische, a two hour drive from Kiev. 


On the way to Gorodische I visited Korsun accompanied by Vitaly Buryak,. Vitaly has a website devoted to Jewish communities in the Ukraine, We met with Claudia  Kolesnikova, and Piotr Rashkovsky. Piotr founded “The Association of Small Jewish Communities of the Ukraine” in 1993 and still leads it.  Claudia writes its newsletter, published several times a year, and established a one room Jewish museum. Although small, the museum effectively tells the story of the Jews of the Korsun area, and people often donate documents and pictures.


Gorodishche Holocaust
Massacre site
Gorodishche Jewish Cemetery
Holocaust monument
in Gorodishche Cemetery
Gorodishche dates
on stone prove cemetery
was not abandoned.

In Gorodische the Jewish cemetery  is almost entirely destroyed. A few miles away is the site of the Holocaust massacre. As was common in Russia, the victims were shot and they fell, dead or alive into a pit. There is a humble monument in a fenced in area. The area appears to be cared for.


I believe my grandmother, Sarah Karnowsky Pokross, was born in Ignatovka, which is only 13 miles from Kiev. The Yiddish is Anatovka, and is the origin of Anatevka, where Tevye the milkman lived in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Before World War I, 1400 Jews constituted  90% of the shtetl’s population. During the Russian Civil War forty Jews were killed in a 1919 pogrom by Deniken's Volunteer Army.  The entire Jewish community scattered by 1921. One hundred sixty of their homes were knocked down and became orchards.
ohel caretaker
The Jewish cemetery, now a field with corn and vegetables was destroyed, although I was unable to learn when. At least nine headstones support an abandoned barn in the next village. Two more are near the cemetery in a yard. They probably supported a previous residence. 

Headstone near the
Ignatovka Cemetery
Yehuda Leib son of
 Mr Danial Shtekleberg
Headstone from Igntovka
supporting an abandoned
builing in a nearby village 

The site of the cemetery is owned privately. Although it is zoned agricultural, the only way to preserve it would be to purchase the land. I was accompanied by Tzvi Azrieli. Tavi is a professional translator. He has done many good things for the Jewish community in Kiev. Born in Riga, he has lived in Israel, studied in Iceland, and eventually settled in Kiev. 

Headstone from Igntovka
supporting an abandoned
builing in a nearby village 
We met the chairman of the local Rada (council). He was a retired business man who went into politics to clean up corruption. After he left us at the cemetery, I realized my backpack was in his car. 

When he returned with it, I explained I was a “dumb American.” I also remember some German, and, since he had studied in Germany,  we were able to converse without a translator.  Not only did he bring back the backpack, but he drove us into Kiev where it was much easier to find a taxi, and much less expensive. Although at the beginning, I may have appeared to be a pest, I think I made a friend! 


Friday morning, I visited Hesed day care, which is for Holocaust survivors, and presented the video “Remembering Dokshitsy” in Russian to about 30 people. I also met with Boris Zabarko, who leads the Ukranian Association of Jews-Former Prisoners of Ghetto and Nazi Concentration Camps. Boris has written several books about the Holocaust in the Ukraine,  with many survivor testimonies

On Friday night and Saturday, I attended a reform synagogue in Podol named Hatikvah. Although most Jews were not allowed to live in Kiev during the Russian Empire, wealthy or educated Jews were allowed but had to live in two districts of Kiev, and Podol was one of them.

Podol street market
Podol is a large neighborhood at the level of the Dnieper River. Most of Kiev is on the plateau above. Podol has many buildings built before the Russian Revolution and although near the center of Kiev, has much less hustle and bustle. Most streets are very quiet.  It is a pleasant place to live. I rented an apartment for five nights that is less than a 10 minute walk to the synagogue.

Plaques on the synagogue walls recognize donors. Among the names are Susan L. and James D. Klau, who also support Touro Synagogue. I immediately felt very much at home

Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny was welcoming.  I was asked to help light the Shabbas candles on Friday evening. During the service, after quick instructions by the Rabbi, we sang a moving “Oseh Shalom,” while signing it for the deaf.

Before the service on Saturday, the Rabbi reviewed the Parasha, Parashat Shoftim, Deuteronomy 16:18 - 21:9. The Parsha is about establishing a civil society in the land of Israel.  The parsha begins with instructions to appoint judges, with the admonition, “Justice, justice shall you pursue” and warns that taking bribes perverts justice. When entering and leaving Kiev from the Borispol Airport, prominent signs from the Border service say, “Stop Bribery.”

If the people want a king, he will be chosen by G-d, and should not have too many horses in the stable. The overthrown President of the Ukraine was renowned for having a collection of 1000 cars. The king shall have a copy of the Torah near his throne. The past President of the Ukraine constantly invoked the name of G-d, but did not believe. The king shall not “amass silver and gold to excess.” The past President of the Ukraine had loaves of bread made of gold. I would say that the past President was definitely having a bad hair day during Shabbat at Hatikvah.

The Rabbi also referred to different levels of learning or knowledge.  I found many different descriptions online. At , the levels are can tell, can do, can teach, and can innovate. Rabbi Dukhovny drew particular attention to “can teach”

The Parsha ends by describing a prophet, and discusses false prophets, although it does not give clear instructions on how to differentiate them.  Rabbi Dukhovny wondered if journalists are today’s prophets, and recalled the murder of several reporters in the Ukraine during the rule of President Kuchma. 

Although the service at Hatikvah was different from the service at Touro synagogue, there were many familiar parts. Ahava Rabbah, the prayer before Shema on Saturday morning, was sung to the tune of Hativkah. I was honored with hagbah, lifting the Torah. With some hyperbole, the Rabbi said I was strong in both character and body.  Nevertheless, he stayed close lest I run into a problem.

After a potluck lunch, the video “Remembering Dokshitsy” was shown. Rabbi Dukhovny introduced the video by mentioning the approaching anniversery of Babi Yar, September 29-30, 1941. He said that remembering what had happened in Babi Yar and Dokshitz helped us recall 1000 Holocaust massacres in Ukraine, and many in Belarus. His mother’s sister was killed in the Shoa. When people asked his mother, “Where was G-d?” She responded, “It was done by people, and they had a choice.” 

Later Rabbi Dukhovny showed me a two story building at the end of the courtyard. He said, “Many Jews lived on the street. In 1941five Jewish families lived in the building,19 people in total. Congregation Hativkah helps strengthen Jewish life tin Kiev;  its mission is a response to those 19 people who carefully locked the door and took the key with them on September 29, 1941, when they left for Babi Yar, hoping to return. They were among 33,771 Jews murdered from September 29-30th, 1941.

Thanks to Rabbi Dukhovny and Rabbi Grisha Abramavich in Minsk, I will be attending a conference in Minsk of reform Rabbis and leaders from the Former Soviet Union during the coming Shabbat. The conference marks the 25th anniversary of their activity after the fall of the Soviet Union. 


  1. Hi,
    I believe some of my ancestors (Benioff or Beniov) came from Ignatovka. I would love to see any photos of town or other gravestones or other documentation. Thank you

    1. Deborah, send me a message at aaron.ginsburg at