Mural in Lviv

Credit by Michael Brodsky
Credit by Michael Brodsky

Together with Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky, we recently visited a newly opened mural in Lviv dedicated to Naftali Hertz Imber, the poet who created the Israeli national anthem “Hatikvah”. Imber was born in Zolochiv, not far from Lviv, and spent his youth in Galicia, where he became a poet and traveler. His whole life was devoted to creativity and wanderings.

The figure of Naftali Hertz Imber is relatively unknown to many residents of Lviv, as well as to many Israelis and admirers of the author of the famous anthem. However, amidst the growing interest in Ukraine due to the Russian invasion and Ukrainian resistance, we now have a fresh opportunity to explore the Jewish heritage in Ukrainian lands. This legacy has often been overshadowed by the Holocaust and can sometimes seem like a legacy of empires and neighboring countries. For decades, Russia has tried to appropriate this heritage, as it has done with the entire history of Ukraine. This is evident in the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, which focuses mainly on the Jews of Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania. Even the film by Russian TV journalist Leonid Parfyonov, which talks about Ukrainian Jews, is called “Russian Jews”. This is not surprising, considering that the Pale of Settlement, created by the Russian emperors as an invisible wall for the Jewish people, barely affected the territory of modern Russia.

However, this kind of misattribution is not limited to Russia. The life of the Jews in Galicia is an important part of the exposition of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews (Polin) in Warsaw. If Israeli schoolchildren visit this magnificent exposition, they are unlikely to understand the relationship between Naftali Hertz Imber and other Jews from Lviv and other lands of eastern Galicia to Ukraine. Most likely, they will perceive them as Polish Jews and Austrian patriots. However, the context of interethnic interaction and symbiosis is much more complicated.

Today, the Jewish heritage of Ukraine is preserved in the ruins of synagogues and in the memories of famous writers, politicians, rabbis, and scientists, whose fate remains an important part of life in Ukrainian lands. Preserving this memory is often the work of enthusiasts, such as in Buchach, the hometown of Agnon. That is why we should not miss the chance associated with the civilizational transformation of Ukraine. Ultimately, this legacy will help us better understand Ukraine and ourselves.

About the Author
Vitalii Portnikov is a Ukrainian publicist, writer, TV presenter and member of the Ukrainian PEN. He is also an author and renowned journalist working in democratic media in Central and Eastern Europe for more than three decades. He is the author of hundreds of analytical articles in Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, Russian, Israeli, Baltic media. He hosts television programs and his own analytical channels on YouTube. He is currently broadcasting at the office of the Espreso TV channel and continues to cooperate with the Ukrainian and Russian services of Radio Liberty.