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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

From Yampol to Beltsi

Soroca Iasi 
Crossing the Dniester River between the Ukraine and Bessarabia had to be done by boat, that is why most Jews fleeing Russia at the turn of the century (19th-20th) went the northern route through Warsaw. The Cossacks were the primary enforcers of the "stay at home" policy of the Czar. They were (and are) ethnic Ukrainians.

Meyer and Ephraim narrowly missed being captured by Cossacks outside of Yampol in one of the many episodes of their journey through Europe. While Bessarabia (now Moldava) was under Russian control, the "enforcers" were the Russian Army and the police-both easily bribed or avoided through devious means, including false papers.

After near capture they were assisted by a boatman to cross the Dniester to Soroca. As the small boat approached the town the white fortress came into view.

Soroca Fortress from Dniester Today 

 Meyer and Ephraim rode from Soroca to Beltsi on a wagon, thus avoiding the Spring mud that they faced when on foot. Arriving in Beltsi, they were given sanctuary at a Romanian Orthodox church.
Holy Protectress Cathedral (today)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Out of Podolia

Meyer and Ephraim married sisters, Rachel and Bess, in a synagogue in Pogrebishche.

1847 sketch by Napoleon Orda (negative)

Their first contact was with Rabbi Friedman at the synagogue in Vinnitsa

Vinnitsa Synagogue 1903

Rabbi Friedman gave the men provisions and sent them to the next stop, Rabbi Solomon in Zhmerynka

The next stop was to find a Trotskyite in Sharhorod. The synagogue was not where they would meet, but in "Haus des Juden" the Jewish Community Center.

Jew House Sharhorod 1903

From Sharhorod the brothers went to Chernivtsi to the Dov Inn at the sign of a bear (dov). After spending several days working at the Inn for food and lodging they continued to Yampil on the Dniester River where they could cross to Sorocco in Bessarabia.
Journey 1 Out of Ukraine


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Traditional Judaism and the Enlightenment

The Roman destruction of the second temple in 70CE led to the scattering of the Hebrew population, especially those living near Jerusalem. It also led to a significant impact on liturgy. The priest class (Kohanim, כֹּהֲנִים) and their supporters, the wealthy Saducees, had held a monopoly on leadership and religious practice. This authority had gradually waned after the Supreme Court (Sanhedrin) removed the High Priest as its ex officio leader in 191BCE.

The principal group conflicting with the Saducees was the Pharisees. According to the writings of the nearly contemporaneous historian, Josephus, the liturgy of the Pharisees was based on a combination of oral and written law and its interpretation (Halakhah, הֲלָכָה) first by the Sanhedrin and later by rabbis. This is what became the ritualistic basis for Rabbinic Judaism which succeeded the domination of the priests whose main interest was to get followers to attend the Temple and sacrifice (i.e., pay tribute). The last Sanhedrin was dissolved in the 4th century. Maimonides, often considered as the most important rabbinic word, died over eight hundred years ago. To this day, Rabbinic Judaism is a major form of practice with little deviation across continents.

As lay (non rabbinic) scholars began to study these ancient laws and practice, they came to the conclusion that the changes in life that occurred over the centuries had to be addressed. The Enlightenment (Haskalah, השכלה‎) was a movement that started in 18th century Germany for Jews to engage in the secular world and understand the conflict between their adherence to an 1800 year old world view and what was occurring around them. Critical revision in Jewish belief and practice was one of the outcomes of the Haskalah that erupted toward the end of the19th century into outright rejection of Jewish practice including the use of Hebrew in liturgy, the wearing of head covering by men and the segregation and demeaning of woman in religious services and prayer.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Rise of the Hassid Movement

The Chmielnicki Massacres (1648-49) did not stop the growth of the Jewish presence in the Ukraine, but it did lead to an alteration in the approach of many Jews to the practice of their faith, particularly among the uneducated. Prior to the 18th century a man knowledgeable in Jewish practice led the service- it could be any man. If he were trained in Jewish Law or Halakhah, he could attain the title of rabbi.

The slaughter of over 100,000 Jews led to their withdrawal into self contained areas with little contact with non-Jews. Mysticism grew with the expectation of the coming of the Moshiac. The teachings of Isaac Luria, a tzadik or wise man of the latter part of the 16th century in Galilee, gradually made their way to this area that was further decimated by pogroms. Luria had codified the Kabbalah or signs God gave to Adam through supernatural entities (serpent in  the Garden of Eden) and events (the burning bush, the dividing of the Reed Sea) and ultimately the Torah and Ten Commandments. The proponents believed that only by every person learning Kabbalah would the world come to peace or tikkun olam.

Because so many Jews were illiterate, a new order arose to provide this training. This movement was inspired by one man, the Ba'al Shem Tov, whose teachings were transmitted by adherents to a new class of rabbis, ones more interested in prayer than in law. The proponents became known as Hassids or practitioners of loving-kindness, one of the three tenants of the Lurianic Kabbalah. These rabbis taught that man's role was predestined, that all law was handed down by God, in stark contrast to the teachings of rabbis in western Europe who were influenced by the writings of Spinoza who wrote of free will and that the Torah was written by man.

There is a rich history of the two main branches of contemporary Jewish thought that cannot be more than briefly summarized in this writing and the next on the enlightenment. My reason for discussing this history is to provide insight to the characters of the brothers who were not Hassids, but had to know and respect their world view.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ukraine Jewish Migration, Part 2

Jews had lived peacefully in the German states (while they shared a common language, Germany was a set of small kingdoms until unified in 1871 by Bismarck). The northern Jews or Ashkenazim intermarried with Jews expelled from Spain and France (the southern Jews or Sefardim), and with women of Scandinavian origin who converted from paganism to Judaism bringing their blond features to an otherwise dark-skinned people.

Martin Luther, the leader of the Reformation Movement, embraced Jews urging them to convert to his form of Christianity. As Jews rejected his pressure and that of his followers, Luther became a vehement anti-Semite and made their lives miserable. Jews who had lived in these Protestant areas of the German states for centuries migrated eastward to escape the brutality inflicted on them.

The Catholic princes such as the King of Poland and the Prince of Lithuania welcomed them. Those who migrated first were merchants and bankers, the latter providing loans that Catholics were prohibited from advancing because of Church dicta against usury, the former enhancing the treasuries of their respective sponsors.

Later migrants were of a managerial class who nobles employed to oversee their holdings. After losing a dispute over land with lesser nobility, Chmielnicki assailed the nobles representatives, Jews, resulting in the massacres of 1648-49. Beyond his initial target to settle a land dispute, vast settlements of Jews were snuffed out as he rallied the uneducated serfs who attacked, looted, killed and burned any place where they could find their overlords, Jews, mainly in central and eastern Poland, the area claimed by Chmielnicki's Cossacks of to be the free country of Ukraine.

While the death toll was in the thousands and communities (like Pogrebishche) that had existed for over 500 years were made into graveyards, Jews in the western sectors of  Poland survived virtually unscathed. These survivors had many offspring, the youngest of which were forced to leave because there was not enough opportunity for them to prosper. They repopulated the decimated eastern areas of Poland that were later incorporated into the Russian Empire as Russia, Austria and Germany dismembered Poland in the 18th century. This area became known as the Pale of Settlement, an expanded Ukraine.
Poland Lithuania Alliance 1648

Ukraine Jewish Migration Part 1

The Journeys of Brothers starts near the southwestern edge of the Pale of Settlement, the area of the Russian Empire taken from Poland and where Jews were restricted to live from the time of Katherine the Great  (ca. 1790). Understanding this rather short vertical history of the movement of Jews in and around the Ukraine provides a deeper setting for the substantial migration of Jews in the period 1880-1920, the period of the story.

There has been a Jewish presence in the Ukraine for over two millennia. The early presence was along the coast of the Black Sea and traceable to the Babylonian exile. Some posit that the Tribe of Dan, one of the "lost" tribes, found this area for peaceful settlement- but that's very speculative.

It is alleged that in 986 C.E. the pagan Prince of Kiev, Vladimir, needing to share the beliefs of  his subjects, entertained leaders of the various faiths in Kiev-Muslim, Judaism, Roman and Byzantine Catholicism. He rejected the first two because he would be  required to be circumcised, the third because it was closely tied to the states of the west producing a clash in power. He accepted the last because it was the least threatening either to him personally (i.e., his manhood) or his rule.

But it looks like that in order to end a feud and create an alliance, Vladimir's choice was  his desire to marry Anna, a Byzantine imperial princess and sister of Basil II. What it does show is that Jews were present in the principal city of Kiev at the beginning of the 11th century. Over the years, Jews were expelled, then limited access or provided licenses, but almost always there was an underlying current of anti-Semitism that blocked Jews at the Gates of Kiev and forced generations to go to areas to the west of the city in order to benefit from the trade route.
Kiev-Rus 980-1054

Friday, November 29, 2013

The map shows Part 1 of the journeys. The map doesn't show Strizhavka so I substituted Turbiv as the start. Ephraim has forced himself on his brother so they begin the journey together.

Podolia 1903. Part 1 Path 

Their first contact is Rabbi Friedman in Vinnitsa. They meet in the Synagogue:

Synagogue Vinnitsa 1903

Ephraim emerges as the opposite to Meyer in this segment. The contrast between the brothers is key to the character development of the story line.