Last night was so noisy – I think the whole city remained awake all night.  People were yelling and singing, cats were howling, fireworks were blasting.  This morning, Ella told me that today is “the festival of John (Ivan)” a pagan holiday when people make their way down to the river.  The TV showed people in Kiev celebrating and letting clusters of branches with leaves float down the river, sometimes tied with ribbons, sometimes with a candle in them.  There are such branches hanging outside doors of homes which Ella said were linden branches that are part of a celebration 40 days after Easter and intended to keep away the evil eye – she stressed that these are two entirely different holidays.  Did I say that there are three small TVs in Ella’s apartment?  One in the kitchen, one in Ella and Sasha’s bedroom and one in the living room/parlor.  Here, I thought only we in the US had TVs all over the house!

This morning for breakfast Ella used the remains of the cottage cheese and made pancakes with raisins in them.  She had a pot of red current compote on the stove – to that compote she adds a small amount of sugar because she said the currents are tart.  She also said that unlike other fruits in compotes, these dissolve almost completely or fall apart – I was surprised that there is only a small amount of fruit in the pot I imagined much more fruit.  So that none of us starve on the road to Lviv, she packed us a snack of her delicious honey cake.  I realized that in spite of my original thought that all the food for relatively sort journeys was because of me, this is the way people here travel.  I’m glad that this means that Ella isn’t working extra hard on my behalf – she works from early morning until late a t night taking care of so many people – Sasha, Julia, Ilyusha and Asya.  And then there are all of her students with whom she is very involved, caring for them as if they were family!

Sergey came to pick us up quite early – 7:30 AM, and Ella and I went to his apartment to say good morning to the ever  charming Ilya, and to get Julia who, also afraid of us starving, had packed a picnic lunch of sandwiches, apple cake that Babasya had made and fresh apples.  Once in the car with Taras, Sergey stopped for some bottles of water, and we were on our way.

The countryside, like all the other drives we have taken is really beautiful.  We passed what I believe is a man-made lake that had a huge power plant by it and miles of huge high power transmission lines carrying electricity to the rest of Europe.  Since the gas lines and electricity go right through Ukraine, I would think that relations with the rest of Europe should be better, but what do I know?

We passed crowds of people on the streets of small towns and crowding into churches to celebrate the holiday.  Remember I said that it was Ivan’s holiday and was pagan?  What’s wrong with this picture?  We continued on, through Rahatyn, and the scenery gradually began to change, the towns we passed through had cobble-stoned roads and were

Can you find the stork?

Can you find the stork?

quite picturesque. The cafeteria, similar to an American cafeteria with trays had an array of food displayed – both hot and cold – from which you make choices.  The choices included several different cabbage salads, fish salad, layered fish, mayonnaise and beets, buckwheat, potatoes, cooked cabbage, soups, meats, fish in a variety of sauces, breads, and other Ukrainian delicacies.  There was a case of incredible looking pastries, which, since I had eaten a cheese sandwich in the car, was exactly what I was in the mood for.   Julia and I had coffees – I ate an incredible éclair while Julia had a salad, soup and a roll and the guys ate a more substantial meal, even though they had eaten chicken sandwiches in the car.

Our first stop was at the Shoah memorial – no matter how many of these I see, they are all chilling.  The stories that they have to tell ache to be exposed to the world.  No matter how many stories are told and heard, there are at least ten times more Our first stop was at the Shoah memorial – no matter how many of these I see, they are all chilling.  The stories that they have to tell ache to be exposed to the world.  No matter how many

Despair or Grief?

Despair or Grief?

stories are told and heard, there are at least ten times more, perhaps 6 million more still still needing to be cried out.  After this, we went to the synagogue.  The caretaker called a woman, Sarah, who needed to give us permission to go through the sanctuary.  I began by asking her (in Hebrew) if we could speak in Hebrew or English.  Her response, in English, was that English was better for her.  Her American accent with slight overtones of a Ukrainian or Russian accent was great to hear.  It turned out that she and her husband had been living in Ukraine for 16 years – she is from the Catskills and he from Brooklyn.  She is working at a school on the other side of town and invited us to come look at it, but we just didn’t have time.  Can her husband perhaps be the Rabbi?  I should have asked, and didn’t.

Lviv was breathtaking.  I am so glad that Nathalie encouraged the trip and that I

Lviv Synagogue

Lviv Synagogue

wrote about it and that Julia, Sergey and Taras thought it was a fine way to spend a day off work.  There is, as Ella and Sasha thought, no way to get around the city without the guidance of someone who is familiar with its ancient, narrow, winding streets.It is the most picturesque European city I have been in during this trip.  Beautiful old buildings with flowers on balconies, cobblestones on the streets, outdoor cafes, trolley cars on cables and rails, and churches everywhere.  There were many former Roman Catholic churches whose property was now inhabited by Armenians and Russian or Greek Orthodox congregations.

Lviv street scene

Lviv street scene

Nuns in habits walked around the streets.  The traffic was horrendous – you wouldn’t

Drivers start young!

Drivers start young!

believe how cars manage to get through these roads.  I would swear the cars themselves are actually bending as they snake around all the vehicles and pedestrians.

Julia told me a bit about her memories of her great-grandfather Samuel’s pharmacy – the wooden doors and window frames in the shops and apartments in Lviv reminded her of the wood in his pharmacy. She said she has distinct memories of him folding paper to create small parcels in which he put medicines.

Like all places in Ukraine, the horrors of the past are barely hidden below the surface.  A defaced billboard greeted us – it could have been cleaned off since the defilement was on the glass that covered the political poster.  The reason it caught my eye?  The huge Jewish star and the word “Zhid”.  So, if there is no anti-Semitism, what gives with this?  More

Always under the surface

Always under the surface

questions, conversation, discussions.  Anti-Semitism definitely exists.  It is currently not state-sanctioned and not overt.  It is just barely hidden from view and ready to erupt with little provocation. As someone said, it is in the blood.  The man whose poster was defaced is from a town that either was or is primarily Jewish and he is as well.  The drawings were to make a statement to all passersby that this politician is a Jew.  I wonder what will happen if he wins.  I wonder if he can win.  I know Ella thinks that anti-Semites are uneducated people, but even if that was the case, lack of education doesn’t make people less violent.  The thought of a snake of anti-Semitism just below the surface in this place is very frightening.  The poster is just one example of how it surfaces.  This seems fairly benign, but I think (and I think some of the family agrees) that it is not.  I’m not sure the rest of the family really thinks so either, but it’s difficult to tell.  It is much, much safer to believe that the incidents are isolated, not connected with each other and very minimal with no ability to erupt or spread.  False feeling of security in the face of growing anti-Semitic signs is why so many Jews stayed in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.  Trying to remain calm is commendable, but we all know the dramatic results of maintaining calmness when action is called for.  I hope this candidate wins, and that in winning, the support of Jews and by Jews shines in this place where so often it has not been allowed to without severe repercussions.  I hope those who say it is minor, are correct and that this is not a sign of something really ugly but is isolated, and that wide-spread anti-Semitism has finally been laid to rest on the blood of our ancestors.

The presidential election in the US stood very close to becoming extremely ugly and had the potential for violent outbreaks as we struggled to (finally) elect a Black president.  We think we are safe from such horrors here, but really isn’t hatred and prejudice barely below the surface in so many places?  It’s easy for us in the US to sound complacent about our political reality and to condemn the prejudices and restrictions imposed on people elsewhere, but to some degree, it is like the pot calling the kettle black.  The reality is that we all must take responsibility for making sure that we as individuals are careful of our own statements, and that we cannot stand idly by as others say and do hateful and dangerous things.

We headed back to I-F so that Julia would be on time for Fiddler – tonight she is to see it with her grandmother, tomorrow late afternoon, I am to tape her grandmother’s stories, after we stop at the archives and drive to Kolomyya.  Ella, Taras, Sergey and I celebrated – Sergey bought us ice cream (yum) and poured tall glasses of Jack Daniel and Coke – go figure, I’m in Ukraine and have had wine from Georgia, France and Israel, bourbon from the US and not any vodka yet!!!

Oh, by the way – if you say Husiatyn and Halicia you are speaking Ukrainian – if it’s Gusiatyn and Galicia, then you are speaking Russian.  I am bringing home Holocaust books in Russian and Ukrainian – some from Ella’s mother, one from Misha – the relatives of his about whom he spoke about last night are pictured in the book, which Ella’s mom also has but in Ukrainian – I opted to take the Russian copy since it was originally written in Russian and translated into Ukrainian!   Ella will keep the Ukrainian version which is signed by the author, and will be able to help translate passages for us.

Did I say Sergey’s English is getting a great workout?  He is not so shy about speaking in English and he’s doing a great job.  I wish my Ukrainian was half as good as his English.  I can manage “dobre”, “tak” and not much more.

Tonight I was able to help Sasha and Ella a bit – he needed some help with a spreadsheet and although I am often challenged when it comes to spreadsheet design, this was a simple matter of moving some rows and copying others.  Ella I think was happy to learn to do some new tricks in excel.  I was glad to be able to help them – very small payback for all they are doing for me.

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