Cherkassy… finally!

If you had asked me what Cherkassy was is or where Cherkassy is located some three months ago, I would not have been able to answer.  But, then I started doing some research about the Cherkassy.  I did some homework about the special relationship between Greater Metro West NJ and Cherkassy.

100_0925As a result, I was greatly anticipating our arrival in Cherkassy.  I wanted to see the historical sites, visit the current institutions and, most importantly, meet the people.  Well that day arrived.

We got to meet some 100 people from the Chekassy Oblast (region) during the family camp – some of whom were from the city and some of whom were from surrounding communities.  But on Sunday, we arrived in Cherkassy.  I think it was an emotional moment for all of the members of our mission.  It did not take long for me to fall in love with this community.


100_0904Dimitry Spivakovsky – the director of Hesed Dorot – led us on a tour of Jewish Cherkassy.  Let me pause here to explain the term Hesed Dorot (the gold letters in the sign spell out the words Hesed Dorot).  In the former Soviet Union (FSU), virtually every Jewish community has a Hesed Center.  There are approximately 160 Hesed Centers serving over 150,000 Jews throughout the FSU.  Each one has a Hebrew name.  The Hesed Center for Cherkassy is called Hewed Hesed Dorot.  As a result of the partnership between Cherkassy and Greater MetroWest NJ Federation, Hesed Dorot receives ongoing funding in order to support the important work that they do.

Dmitry took us to the Jewish part of town – or at least what WAS the Jewish part of town before WWII.  Among the architectural features that indicate a Jewish home were:  a center door facing the street (as opposed to the courtyard), rounded window tops and a symmetrical design. Here are some examples:

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Following the tour, we visited the Chabad Center of Cherkassy which is led by Rabbi & Rebbetzin Axelrod.  It just so happened that we arrived in time for a Brit Milah and got to enjoy the Seudah Mitzvah.




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Anyone who knows me well knows that I have no great love for Chabad.  However, the work done by the Axelrods is absolutely incredible.  They are selfless in their work on behalf of the Jews of Cherkassy.  It is the complete opposite of the Brelove Breslove Chassidim in Uman who have no interest in the needs of real people in their community.  The Axelrods live their lives thinking ONLY of other people.  Both of them were born in Israel and still have much family there.  They have given it all up to help restore the Jewish community of Ukraine.

But for me, the real story of Cherkassy is the story of everyday Jews – some of whom were too intimidated to admit their Jewishness during the days of Soviet rule.  Today, none of them is afraid to admit that they are Jewish.  In fact, one after another, members of the community tell us how anti-Semitism is no longer a significant factor in modern Ukraine.  As a result, Jews are thirsting for additional knowledge about their past.  This is one of the ways that the Jewish community of Greater MetroWest can be of help – to gently provide some guidance for the Jewish communities of the FSU , recognizing how difficult it is to restore Judaism after 75+ of suppression.




About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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