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Zhidovka: A Jew in Ukraine

Zhidovka: A Jew in Ukraine

As a child, that dreadful word Zhid echoed through my hometown. Don’t think the anti-Semitism is no longer there.

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Growing up in a small town in Ukraine as a Jewish child was extremely painful. My classmates tormented and bullied me for simply being Jewish. I was called a Zhidovka which means Jewess in Ukrainian. This word surfaced when Nazi’s occupied Ukraine and other Soviet Unions cities and began calling Jews in a derogatory manner. The bullying in school got to a point of where I would come home and just cry because of the abuse I endured, even from teachers. My parents would come to school to speak with the teachers but it would just make the situation worse.

anti-semitism in UkraineAt one point the abuse got violent. Children would chase me, throw fireworks at me and call me derogatory names. I began to stutter out of fear of being hurt and cry daily. In 1996, my parents decided to take me out of school because we were immigrating to America.

I was born to a wonderful Jewish family on September 12, 1985 in a small province called Ovruch in Ukraine. My town was mainly Jewish until the Nazi occupation during the WWII. From my early childhood I realized that there was something different about my family and me. The way we spoke, the names we had, and the way we looked seemed to differ from our fellow neighbors. My family spoke Yiddish, our last name was Shulman and we all had similar features.

Everything Jewish was pretty much kept as a secret.

Jewish people in Ukraine, and I am sure throughout the Eastern Europe, were viewed as a threat to the non-Jewish neighbors. Jewish people in my town were doctors and successful business owners and for some apparent reason that success bothered the non-Jews. The Nazis gathered the people in my hometown of Ovruch, locked them in barns and set them on fire, watching the Jews burn alive. Many Jewish relatives perished during the Holocaust. That dreadful word Zhid echoed through the town, as innocent Jews were murdered for no apparent reason.

My family kept the Jewish traditions in hiding due to the extreme anti-Semitism in my town. My grandfather Aron would go to synagogue on Shabbat in a neighbor’s basement. Passover was also kept in hiding; matzah was baked in basements. Everything Jewish was pretty much kept as a secret. The non-Jews in Ovruch were not fond of Jewish people and their traditions.

I think anti-Semitism will always remain in my hometown and in other cities of Ukraine. A Jew cannot walk freely wearing a Magen Dovid without wondering in the back of his mind if someone will torment him for it. There are however many synagogues and Jewish communities throughout Ukraine in various cities such as Kiev and Zhitomir. But the fact of the matter is that the observant Jews have to be extremely careful when practicing their faith.

My father was in the military for almost 20 years in Ukraine was denied equal rights as military personnel because of his Jewish last name. All this happened not too long ago and it is still happening today. The non-Jews in Ukraine may hide their anti-Semitism to some extent, but when push comes to shove it is unfortunately right there, ready to come to the fore. The Jews who have yet to immigrate to Israel or America are hiding their Jewish identity for their safety. My relatives from Ukraine luckily immigrated to Israel and to America in the early seventies. My family immigrated to America in 1996. We have escaped the religious persecution. My heart aches for the Jews that are still left behind in Ukraine. I know what they are going though because I lived through it myself and witnessed the hatred.

I will never understand how people can have so much hatred towards another human being, especially a child like myself, for just being Jewish. Why should a fellow Jewish person be scared to practice his faith? We are all people and deserve to have equal rights and opportunities regardless of what religion we practice.

Today I am far from those people that tormented me and called me a Zhidovka and I wear my Jewish star proudly. I am married to a wonderful man who also emigrated from Ukraine in the early 1990’s in order to escape the anti-Semitism. We have been blessed with a beautiful son. I am proud to be Jewish and I God-willing I will raise my son to also be a proud member of the Jewish people.

I am thankful that we can freely walk the streets without the fear of being attacked for being a Jew. My family can practice our Jewish faith freely and not have to hide our traditions.

Published: March 16, 2014


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Visitor Comments: 20

(15) Mike, March 24, 2014 2:21 PM

It is sad to hear about the abuse that your family endured. I have heard more and more about the antisemitism in Ukraine. Thank G-d your family was able to leave and start a new life in the USA. Ukraine's loss is our gain. May you and your family have a sweet Passover.

(14) Samuel Hollander, March 18, 2014 6:19 PM

Sheila, thanks for your opinion. However, please note the following: 1)I am a Jew 2) My parents had survived Holocaust; my grandparents, unfortunately, had not; one my grandmother had been shot by a Ukrainian policeman during the German occupation, while the other died in Auschwitz 3) I lived in Lviv, the city in the West Ukraine, I personally experienced anti-Semitizm (from native Russians' side even more than Ukrainians) 4) I have immigrated to Israel 24 years ago. Hopefully this gives me some reasons to to express my minds on the issue Let me suggest that1) I know the history of Holocaust not worse then you do 2) I know Ukraine, the situation of Jews from my own experience better then you do from the media 3.respectively, Ukrainian politicians are not "mine" in the least...
I never deny there are deep anti-Semitic roots in Ukraine. However the fact is that this country made substantial moves in the past decades to eradicate anti semitism. I suppose Jews should welcome this. Not all Ukrainian politicians are similar, as well as European and American too. There are well-known politicians in the US with a strongly anti-Jewish bias. Nobody says, however, that the US is a Nazi state! Regarding your sentiments towards Mr.Putin, please learn some more 1) about the history of Russia 2) about what is geopolitics 3) about Kremlin's role in the Middle East in the modern history and it's ties with Syria and Iran in particular 4) read comments of Russian readers in various Internet sites and blogs - full of anti-Europe, anti-American, anti-Jewish hysteria. It's a blessing that there are few Jews in Ukraine these days, and here is why: Putin's stuff would organize a few couples of pogroms in Ukraine, then he would 'legally' occupy Ukraine as a 'liberator of Jews'. His rhetoric is nothing but an attempt to play the Jewish card. He failed in Ukraine, now he tries to do this in the US. And this is my appeal to you and the rest of readers: beware of turning into his puppets!

(13) Izrail Shapiro, March 18, 2014 4:24 PM

Three Jews Among Those Killed in Ukraine Uprising

Not everything is black and white in Ukraine, or Russia: http://forward.com/articles/194722/three-jews-among-those-killed-in-ukraine-uprising/

(12) Alvin, March 18, 2014 3:02 PM

Ask those were there

My father in law is friendly with a number of Jews who emigrated from Ukraine. A few weeks ago, he casually asked them what they thought of the Ukrainian crisis. Let's put it this way - they have no fond feelings for their Ukrainian ex-neighbors, no sympathy for them whatsoever, and this is all well-deserved, as they jad suffered their whole lives from the vicious antisemitism. Ironically, when the Israeli soccer team visited Ukraine last year, they showed more sympathy and kindness for Ukrainian children, than did their hosts. Mr (Mrs.? Rabbi?) Moderator, could you please post the link? It says a lot about us, and about them.

(11) Anonymous, March 17, 2014 6:45 PM

Inspired

I'm inspired by the self-sacrifice of your family to hold on to their Judaism in the face of torment and persecution.

For the answer to your question regarding how people can hate Jews for no reason, generally speaking, I think it was Rabbi Meir Shapiro zt"l who said, "When the Jews don't make 'kiddush' the gentiles make havdalah"! But that doesn't totally explain it all. Therefore for an encompassing response see the seminar "Why the Jews?" on Aish.com.

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