Jewish Observer
November 2001
5762 Kheshvan

Main page To print

Beginning in No 11 (14) 12 (15)

While the concert dedicated to the Day of Independence was in full swing on the city square of Kosov we were thinking whether we should go to Kolomiya. On the one hand, it is not far (local inhabitants were saying so) and nobody knows when else we would have an opportunity to see Kolomiya. On the other hand - the sun will set down in a couple of hours and we have been on the wheels since yesterday. To crown it all, we have been travelling through the mountain roads. What about returning in darkness, in the unknown locality? We finally decided to go (do not forget, here all are Jews).

Kolomiya - the capital of Gutsulshchina - is a small charming Polish town. Unlike Chernovtsy, Vizhnitsa and Kosov, which were under Romanian-Hungarian or Austrian rule, Kolomiya had long belonged to Poland, and this fact left its architectural imprint on the town. I don't know, though, which influence caused the appearance of the strange traffic rules - the left turn is prohibited on the majority of the central streets? Due to this our two-storied bus had to dodge a lot through narrow streets before arriving at the destination. What our drivers were thinking about all that you can easily guess...

There is no Jewish cemetery in Kolomiya, rather, "there is not already". Yet under the Soviet power another park was organised on the cemetery locality, and this occurred, evidently, rather long ago because the majority of the town residents are unaware of this fact... For good half an hour we were trying to find out where the Jewish cemetery is, we were sent to different parts of the town, some people even recommended a neighbouring cathedral. We tried to contradict, "But there is a Polish cemetery there" (this is really so, we were passing by and saw), but the locals got surprised, "Is it? What is the difference?"

We didn't explain the difference; we were helped by a young guy who advised us to go to the activist of the Jewish community who resided nearby. Thanks to that we succeeded in achieving our aim...

We are finally in the park... We see a mound in the middle of a lawn - this is the very grave of Rabbi Guilel Likhterstein (Kolomien Rebe). The cemetery horrifies us (after the cemeteries we saw in Medzhbozh, Sadigora, Vizhnitsa, Kosov). But there is a hope for the better - the Ivano-Frankovsk Rabbi Moshe Kolesnik has already been here together with the Israelis who organise tours about holy places. It was they who helped to construct the majority of ohels in Ukraine. So, evidently, the burial place of Kolomian Rebe will soon acquire a decent look.

Kolomiya itself produces a very favourable impression. The houses are nice, cosy; there are flowers and greenery everywhere. Clean small streets are neatly pebbled... As for the names of those streets... Probably, you would like to live in Mozart Street. But what would you say as for Mozart corner and Sverdlov Street? This is, probably, funny...

We got to Chernovtsy from Kolomiya late at night, so the impression of the city - a continuous mountain instead of a town. We proceeded along that mountain and finally got to the Chernovtsy synagogue where a hospitable Rabbi Noakh Kofmansky welcomed us with a marvellous dinner.

The Chernovtsy synagogue looks a little like the Berdychev one. It has the same abundance of blue paint but is more decorated. That synagogue was built prior to the Soviet power and happily survived it without closing down for a moment, even during the war. There are people among its parishioners who have attended it during all this time. In general, the Chernovtsy old people are something particular.

The next morning we walked about the city. Chernovtsy is often called "a small Paris", and it is absolutely true regarding the word "small". Chernovtsy and the Chernovtsy region are the smallest regional centre and region in Ukraine. As for Paris... The Austrian-Hungarian architecture in the city is quite noticeable and old quarters resemble Budapest. The most beautiful place of the city is the square in front of the Opera Theatre. If you get to it through one of the side streets, for example, the one named after a famous Jewish writer Eliezer Shteinburg, you will get then an opportunity, first, to admire the ensemble of wonderful buildings on the square; second, to visit the Jewish house, third... no, at first, we shall enter the Jewish house as it is, luckily, located on the corner of Shteinburg street.

You should first cast an admiring look at the front of, undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful buildings of the city and then bravely enter it. This house was constructed for the money of the Chernovtsy Jews almost one hundred years ago: Later on it was requisitioned by the Soviet power and turned into a palace of culture, and during the perestroika period it was returned to the Jews... At the same time one of the first, if not the first, Jewish schools in Ukraine was opened in Chernovtsy. This year it has marked its ten-year jubilee.

Unfortunately, there are not so many Jews in Chernovtsy nowadays, that's why the life in the Jewish house doesn't boil up nowadays. But it continues, which is seen from the working hours time-table in the house hall.

We leave the Jewish house and go for a walk in the garden in front of the theatre. Its lanes are turned into a local Alley of Stars. You may imagine our astonishment when we saw the first three names: Sidi Tal, Pinkus Falik and Joseph Schmidt. To be frank I shall say that we have walked into the Alley not at the beginning but somewhere in the middle of it. But, as you see, we were lucky.

Just behind the corner from the Theater Square we discovered a giant building of the "Ukraine" cinema - a former synagogue. In its hall we saw a memorial board to a local cantor (a famous opera singer) Joseph Schmidt.

If you happen to visit Chernovtsy do not spare your time on a walking tour. The city deserves it. Visit Chernovtsy yards which are absolutely unlike Odessa ones. Walk along narrow pebbled streets. In one of them you will see, by the way, another memorial board with a huge Magen-David. Another Jewish writer - Moshe Altman - lived in that house. If you have time, visit the building of the university. It has nothing to do with the Jews and, moreover, it was initially built as the Metropolitan residence, but if you are not indifferent to beauty - do visit it. You will see green lawns in the English style, luxurious buildings of red brick (they say, all bricks are hand-made) and wonderful colored tiles creating complicated patterns... Even a glimpse at the buildings will give you unforgettable impressions.

On the way back we passed though the village of Zhvanets (you, probably, have gessed whose ancestors used to live there) and at 2 a.m. we reached Uman...

Uman is unreal! Beyond real. A Ukrainian town where there we almost no Jews left and where they are building the biggest synagogue in the world. The town in which the Jewish cemetery was destroyed but which, nonetheless, lives "from the Jewish grave". The town that is off the train routes and on rare bus routes but where they intend to build, an international airport. The town in which the names of the streets are not only in Ukrainian but also in Hebrew and where one can meet the Jews of such looks that our forefathers would say "Oh!"

The changes in Uman comparing with the last year are small. A new hotel was opened, a new supermarket was built, and opposite the Rabbi Nahman ohel they have opened a free cafeteria where each visitor can have a cup of tea or coffee with milk.

To return to Odessa is better early in the morning. The air is fresh and transparent, streets are desolate and, most important, the home is so near.


Jewish Observer -
2001 Jewish Confederation of Ukraine -