Lviv’s Jewish Legacy

One morning shortly after my arrival in Lviv, I joined a *Free Walking Tour of Old Town” at the Neptune statue in Rynok. It was a cold, blistery day. Our tour guide Nicole suggested we stop mid-way through our tour for a coffee to warm up. The cozy coffee house she introduced us to had been a Jewish shop before the war. At the entrance the post-war plaster had been removed, revealing pre-war inscriptions in Yiddish, Polish and German.

That afternoon I visited the museum at the Hesed-Arieh Jewish Center, the All-Ukrainian Jewish Charitable Foundation. There I found a map called “Jewish Lviv: 100 Addresses”**. This tourist map identifies 100  buildings and sites related to old Jewish Lviv. It provided some historic background about the cafe my tour group had stopped at earlier that day. The map became an important source of Jewish information for me during my  Lviv visit.

_____________________

The Golden Rose Synagogue is a UNESCO World Heritage site incorporated into UNESCO Lviv – the Ensemble of the Historic Center. All that was left standing following its destruction by the Nazis in 1941 was a couple of walls and the foundation. On this foundation is a holocaust memorial consisting of a series of stone plaques.

On one of the plaques it read: “It’s a beautiful city, but also a graveyard for 150,000 Jews.”  It was written by Eli Brauner.  His ancestors built the Golden Rose Synagogue in 1582.

Since the end of the 18th century until 1939, Jews were about a third of Lviv population.  In 1939 Lviv’s population was 340,000 of whom 110,000 were Jews. Today there are about 1200 Jews out of a population of over 700,000***.

_____________________

Baczewski Restaurant which is just off Rynok Square, is the place to go in Lviv for a well-priced, first class breakfast buffet in a leafy courtyard, while being entertained by a classical pianist.

The restaurant and adjacent shop which sells fine spirits, celebrate the history of the wealthy Jewish  Baczewski family. Their family business of fine spirits has been in Lviv since 1782. The Baczewski factory was the first factory to launch the mass production of vodka in the world. The family escaped to Austria in 1939. The huge distillery in Lviv was destroyed during WWII. Production resumed in Lviv a few years ago.

I was told to arrive for brunch at 8am to beat the crowd.  The patrons at that hour appeared to be mostly tourists. A group of friendly, young American Jehovah Witnesses sat near me. 

As I left the restaurant one morning, the pianist was playing the Viennese Waltz. Baczewski Restaurant is a slice of European flavor in the middle of Lviv’s multi-cultural Old Town. What a treat!

______________________

* Free Walking Tour – www.lvivbuddy.com

** Jewish Lviv: 100 Addresses – https://lia.lvivcenter.org/en/storymaps/100-addresses/

*** www.history.ucsb.edu/projects/holocaust/Resources/history_of_lviv.htm

(Move your cursor over each photo for caption/description. Android, iPhone, and iPad users – hold a finger on each photo for a few seconds for caption/description)

Advertisements

Lviv – Where History and Culture Blend Harmoniously with Music

Lviv’s historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I stayed right in the heart of it, just off Plohcha Rynok (Market Square). Rynok Square is dominated by City Hall in the middle. The east side is lined with palace museums, one of which was owned by a Polish king. Fountains with Greek mythological figures dot the square. Historic, tenement houses which are occupied on street level with shops, restaurants, cafes and pubs, line the square. Many have underground cellar pubs.

Lviv is a little slice of Europe, more so than the former Soviet capital of Kiev. This is due, in part, to its far western location within Ukraine in Galicia, a historical and geographic region between Central and Eastern Europe.

Lviv is a magical city with a turbulent history, especially during the 20th century. By all appearances it is recovering well. Live music of various genres greeted me at every turn, whether it was simply by walking around as a tourist, dining day or night, or by searching for it.

______________________

Rynok Square is always alive with music. One afternoon as I was passing through the square, a young guitar player was performing pop songs in front of one of the palace museums on the east side. Under the clock tower of City Hall, a lively brass band had their audience swaying to their music.  Two men on a sidewalk were playing traditional tunes and were dressed accordingly.  A Hare Kirsna religious group was just coming into the square from a side street, in song.

Each day at the top of the hour, quite regularly, a trumpet player opened a door from a third-story window near the clock tower of City Hall, extended his trumpet out of the window, played a brief tune, waived to the crowd below, then quickly disappeared behind a wooden shutter. If I heard it, I quickly proceeded to the window where he was playing to see if I could get a glimpse of the elusive player. I saw him only twice. This game of cat and mouse is apparently played regularly by many tourists.

__________________

I expected to find beautiful organ music in a church in Lviv, but instead found it at the Organ Hall and at the National Museum of Religion. Due to centuries of European influence in Lviv, a large percentage of churches are Greek Catholic churches, and they traditionally don’t use organs.

I was introduced to Taras, a charming young man from Lviv, by a friend in the States. Taras was hired last year to develop a former Polish Catholic church into a concert hall. Many organs that were in churches around Ukraine were destroyed during communist times, but this one was saved. As a guest of Taras, who was the organizer, I attended a beautiful classical concert with organ, piano and a tenor singer, in this venue. The setting was exquisite.

I heard another lovey organ recital on a restored 17th century organ at the Museum of Religious History. It had been acquired from the neighboring Dominican Cathedral. After the concert Mr. Pivnov, the performer, proudly showed me some of the details of the treasured organ which he had restored himself.

______________________

(Move your cursor over each photo for caption/description.  Android, iPhone, and iPad users – hold a finger on each photo for a few seconds for caption/description)

Saying Goodbye to Kiev

Before closing the chapter of my blog on Kiev, I want to say a few remarks about The Lavra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Holodomor (Great Famine) 1932-1933.

The Lavra and the Holodomor Victims Memorial and are located near each other on the Pechersk Hills on the right bank of the Dnieper River in Kiev. I took a Metro ride from downtown one afternoon and walked about a mile to reach these sites. It was an afternoon of discovery.

Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra, or just “the Lavra” is a monastery with a 1000 year history. It has been an important center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in Eastern Europe since its foundation in 1051. The monastery became Kievan Rus’ intellectual center. Once inside the monastery, strolling among the cluster of gold-domed churches and courtyards lead me to several interesting museums. One of them displayed a hoard of Scythian gold (7-3 centuries BC), another an outstanding collection of traditional dress from around the country.

The Holodomor (Great Famine) which took place in 1932-1933, was a genocide against the Ukrainian people. It was an artificially introduced food shortage created under Stalin in which millions of Ukrainians died of starvation.

The Holodomor Victims Memorial sits high on a bluff overlooking the Dnieper River. I visited Black Board Alley in the museum underneath the memorial. Here the names of 14 thousand villages and towns in Ukraine which were affected by the famine are listed. This display has become one of the most striking symbols of the Holodomor.

__________________________

Following are a few photos in memory of my experience in Kiev – a fascinating city where east meets, and often collides with, west.

__________________________

I am off on a seven hour train ride to the historic town of Lviv in the western part of Ukraine. Fortunately it was easy to buy my ticket online. Finding my way around the train station in Kiev was a challenge without speaking Russian or Ukrainian. I am grateful for the assistance given to me getting around the station on my departure by a delightful Ukrainian Mother and daughter whom I met there.

I have experienced wonderful hospitality from warm and friendly Ukrainian people since my arrival.

___________________________

(Move your cursor over each photo for caption/description.  Android, iPhone, and iPad users – hold a finger on each photo for a few seconds for caption/description)

Experiencing the Local Flavor of Kiev, Part II

ZOLOTI VOROTA (GOLDEN GATES)

There is a popular, small, leafy park next to a pedestrian walkway at the foot of the Zoloti Vorota (Golden Gates) in Old Town. On spring-like days it was enjoyable to sit there and do some people watching. The tourists visiting the Golden Gates and professionals walking briskly around were an interesting mix of people.It was especially entertaining when a street flower market was set up nearby which attracted more locals.

Zoloti Vorota (Golden Gates) was the main gate in the 11th century fortifications of Kyiv, the capitol of Keivan Rus. It was completely demolished in the Middle Ages and rebuilt by the Soviet authorities in 1982. The other two city gates, Ladski and Shydivski (Polish and Jewish) have not survived.

One day near the Golden Gate I noticed an inviting restaurant sign on the street next to an open door with a photo of a Ukrainian band. I descended a steep, relatively-dark, narrow staircase and found a lovely underground restaurant. It was decorated with fine, colorful weavings and hand-carved wooden furniture. The local business crowd packed the place. I couldn’t say no when a gracious hostess in traditional dress directed me to a table. The Ukranian red borscht soup with homemade bread was superb. The music? I would have to come back some evening for that, she said.

A PERFORMANCE AT THE OPERA HOUSE

I had heard that opera and ballet performances at theTaras Shevchenko National Opera Theatre were lavish productions, well priced, and shouldn’t be missed. The grand theatre was built in 1901.

I attended both a ballet and an opera, purchasing tickets at different prices in order to experience balcony as well as orchestra seating. US$10 bought me a good orchestra seat. The evening I attended the wonderful Swan Lake Ballet, I was entertained beforehand by young twins in the balcony where I was sitting. They were having a fun time trying to get a good photo of their Mother with her Smart Phone. The acoustics in the theatre were superb.

A LOCAL FLEA MARKET

Searching for local markets is one of my favorite things to do when traveling. I just happened to be in Kiev the weekend the huge monthly Kurazh Bazar, a flea market on Kiev’s left bank, was taking place.

Over 400 vendors sold new and used clothing, antiques and various trinkets. People were rummaging through piles of clothing with seemingly great patience. The street food was plentiful, but too deep fried for my taste. The farmer’s market was extensive. Upon inquiry,I was told many kinds of oranges they were selling came from Greece. I bought a kilo of juicy oranges and enjoyed eating them while listening to some good street music.

________________________

(Move your cursor over each photo for caption/description.  Android, iPhone, and iPad users – hold a finger on each photo for a few seconds for caption/description)

Experiencing the Local Flavor of Kiev, Part I

Getting in touch with the local culture when traveling is always an interesting challenge for any traveler. Finding it is half the fun. In Kiev I found it by visiting local markets, dining with a friend of a friend, eating at a traditional restaurant, attending a ballet, and even visiting popular tourist sites.

PIANO MUSIC ON VOLODYMYRSKA HILL

Upon disembarking from the Kiev Funicular on Volodymyrska Hill on the edge of Old Town, I enjoyed a piano performance of popular tunes whenever they were being performed. Behind the performer was a brick gate topped with a golden cross, which was an entrance to St. Michael’s Monastery. In front of them was the towering building of the Ministry of Finance of Ukraine. If the music wasn’t there to cause me to pause there on the cobblestone path, the striking contrast presented by these two institutions always did.

Volodymyrska Hill is located on the steep right bank of the Dnieper River on the edge of Kiev Upper Town. The Saint Vladimir Monument, dedicated to Vladimir the Great, overlooks the embankment. He was the ruler of Kievan Rus from 980 to 1015 and the Baptizer of the Rus people. His influence was significant with regard to Kiev’s Christian history over the past 1000 years.

Knowing how immobile the piano on the path was, I wondered how long it could last exposed to the elements. Once when I passed by a man was working on it. I never got my answer as to how such as instrument can survive the elements there, but I did get an answer as to how it stays tuned.

MEETING A FRIEND OF A FRIEND

I was fortunate to be introduced to Alex, a native of Kiev, by a friend from Newport, Rhode Island, where I live when I’m not globetrotting.

Alex, a professional who works in the TV production business, was a gracious host. He introduced me to traditional food in a couple of area restaurants, and took me to the Petrivka book market, a second-hand book market in the outskirts of Kiev. He said it dates back to Soviet times when finding certain books was a challenge given the closed borders with the west.

One evening we took a trolley to a popular Ukrainian restaurant with a friend of his. Our table was in a reconfigured old wine barrel. He ordered a shared traditional Ukrainian meal for all of us, which contained an abundance of meat. A strolling female vocalist and a male violinist performed a few Ukrainian folk songs at our table while we ate. It was good fun!

THE SHOLOM-ALEICHEM MUSEUM – Fiddler on the Roof

The Sholem Aleichem Museum in Kiev is in honor of the Jewish author Sholem Aleichem, whose works inspired the script and songs of the hit musical Fiddler on the Roof. He was born in 1859 in a village in Kiev Oblast (region). Being a big fan of this musical, I visited this museum. His humor was prevalent there, especially in the form of the popular Jewish dolls that were displayed.

While visiting the museum, I got into an interesting discussion about old synagogues with Rafael, one of the volunteers. The beautiful, historic Brodsky Synagogue, which was just around the corner from the museum is a functioning synagogue today. It was built in 1898 and was devastated during WWII by the Nazis and was subsequently used as a puppet theatre.

Rafael and I continued our discussion by email as he wanted to learn more about America’s oldest synagogue, the Touro Synagogue, in Newport, Rhode Island. I was grateful I was able to share something of importance to this man who was so knowledgeable about local Jewish culture and history in Kiev. Understandably, it was simply because of the fact that I live in lovely, historic Newport, and the city’s rich Jewish heritage is present in its synagogue.

_____________________

(Move your cursor over each photo for caption/description.  Android, iPhone, and iPad users – hold a finger on each photo for a few seconds for caption/description)

The Soviet Legacy in Kiev

During my strolls around Old Kiev, I invariably ran into St. Sophia’s Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is not surprising given its convenient location in the heart of Old Town and the striking views its13-cupola sanctuary offers the casual passer-by.

St. Sophia’s was built in 1037 and is Kiev’s oldest standing church. It escaped the fate of many of Kiev’s sacred places of worship as a result of the USSR anti-religious campaign (1921-1928) after Kiev became the capital of the newly formed Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1922.

For example, the Church of the Three saints, one of Kievs holiest edifices which was built in 1183, was destroyed by he Soviet regime. In its place the regime built the colossal Ministry of Foreign Affairs building.

While I was standing in front of a sign on this building that now says “Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine,” two American men in business attire who had just exited the building passed close by me in deep discussion. I thought at that moment, if the local government can’t replace the church, at least they are putting a remnant of this Soviet legacy to good use – that of helping to facilitate better international understanding.

__________________

One afternoon, while downtown, I met *Servas day host Iryna. She lives with her husband in a high-rise building in Kiev’s suburbs. I gratefully accepted her kind invitation to her flat for a home-cooked traditional Ukrainian meal.

As we left her Metro station, we approached a massive complex of high-rise apartment buildings which are part of a community which houses over 300,000 people. I was surprised to learn that this complex was built in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. She said that most Servas travelers she brings home think, as I did, that it was probably built during communist times. Her small, efficient apartment was similar in layout and size to the Soviet era flats of Servas hosts I had visited recently in Poland and Budapest.

For ten years during Soviet times, she and her husband and two children, lived with her Father, Mother, and brother in a three room flat. They were so pleased when, in 1991, they finally found the small flat they are currently living in, that they bought it immediately. Her daughter, who married a German, now lives in Germany, and her single son lives in Poland.  Iryna is of Polish heritage and her children speak Polish.  Her son feels he can do better financially in Poland than in Ukraine in his technology business.  Also he feels comfortable with the language there.  She often travels to these countries to visit them.

By the way, her lovingly-prepared, home-cooked Ukrainian meal was delicious!

______________________

The Russian legacy also lives on in the language. I constantly hear Russian spoken all around me in Kiev by all ages. I know a few basic words of Russian and am finding them useful, since I know even less Ukrainian (if that’s possible!). Occasionally I get into a discussion with Ukrainians who speak English (mostly the young) about their use of Russian and Ukrainian languages. Interestingly, they said that they often bounce back and forth between the two languages within a single conversation.

________________________

During a **Free “Reds” Walking Tour, we visited the Friendship of Nations monument. The interesting complex sits on a viewing platform overlooking Kiev’s left (east) bank and the Dnieper River

Under the Friendship Arch is a social-realist statue of a Ukrainian and a Russian worker with arms raised in solidarity. While standing there, I said a prayer for peace between the two Sovereign Nations.

________________________

*Servas – A non profit international peace organization of hosts and travellers  www.USServas.org

** www.kievwalkingtours.com.ua

(Move your cursor over each photo for caption/description.  Android, iPhone, and iPad users – hold a finger on each photo for a few seconds for caption/description)

 

Exploring Maidan, Kiev’s Central Square, and Environs – A Day to Remember

During a brief encounter in a cafe with a Ukrainian professional woman named Christine, we discussed the three major cities of Ukraine which I am in the process of visiting – Kiev, Lviv and Odessa. She commented that Lviv feels a bit like Europe, and Odessa feels a bit like Russia. But when she mentioned Kiev she threw up her hands, rolled her eyes, shook her head and laughed. She was apparently at a loss for words when it came to describing the rich cultural legacy of this enigmatic city.

______________________

It was a peaceful, brisk day in Maydan Nazalezhnosti (Independence Square), or “Maidan” as Kiev’s historic central square is popularly called. This peace belies the tragedy which happened here and the surrounding area during Euromaidan in 2014 when radical protests were sparked by the Ukrainian government’s decision to suspend the signing of an association agreement with the European Union.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the start of Ukraine’s independence movement in 1990, the square has been the traditional place for political rallies. Today the only signs of the Euromaidan deadly uprising are the memorials to the 100 dead that line the steep pathway to the massive Intourist hotel, and the towering metal slabs that encircle Independence monument.  The slabs relate the story of the uprising in text and photos.  Gone are the tents, the protesters, and government troops.

______________________

Our *free walking tour started in Maidan at the Founders Monument, which depicts the three legendary founders of Kiev and their sister. The majestic column of Independence monument, recently built to celebrate the 10th year of Ukraine’s independence, dominated the landscape. The old Soviet Intourist hotel, with commanding views of Independence Square, ironically looks out on Independence monument.  Stately historic buildings surround the square.

We joined in the buzzing pedestrian traffic as we explored the square. Business men and women were striding with purpose across the wide expanse. Young people were scattered about, buried in their smart phones. Lines gathered at mobile coffee stands. Tourists were taking selfies with Independence monument in the background.

Walking up one of the old streets that fanned out from the square we arrived at the stunning St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery. It was originally built in the Middle Ages, destroyed by the Soviets in the 1930’s, and rebuilt following Ukrainian Independence in 1991. Many protestors during the 2014 Maidan uprising took shelter here, we were told.

___________________________

It was International Women’s Day that day and Khreshchatyk Street, Kiev’s central street in Old Town which extends from one side of Maidan, had been made into a pedestrian avenue. After our walking tour finished, I joined the masses in the promenade from the main square down Khreshchatyk Street to historic Bessarabsky Rynok (market). Excitement was in the air – buskers entertained with their music, spray-painting artists demonstrated their skills. Most adults had a flower or two in hand.

The lovely, light-filled, Bessarabsky Rynok (central market) was built in 1910. It was built for traders coming to Kiev from Bessarabia, which is mostly part of neighboring modern-day Moldova. Fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, clothing, souvenirs – it was all there. The packed dining establishments with communal seating in one corner of the market, with trendy vegan and Chinese fast-food stalls, satisfied my hunger. I went back there to eat several times after that. The price was right (around US$5), the food was great, and the young, international clientele interesting.

What a fine day it was of enlightenment and entertainment!

________________________

* www.kievwalkingtours.com.ua

(Move your cursor over each photo for caption/description.  Android, iPhone, and iPad users – hold a finger on each photo for a few seconds for caption/description)