I met him once — and was significantly less awkward than Aubrey about it!
“LVIV, Ukraine (JTA) — The more I thought about it, the more it began to seem like a reasonable choice: I would roam around Europe for six months, visiting Jewish museums, talking to youth groups and covering various community happenings. I would travel from vibrant London to the post-Communist countries of the Eastern Bloc. But I would decisively avoid any intersection with my own family’s past.
Like many American Jews, my family history is deeply tangled in the tragedies of Jewish Europe. But I wasn’t going to engage with history on anything but an abstract level, through the detached eyes of a reporter.
That changed when I decided to pay a visit to western Ukraine. My family is from a shtetl called Shatsk, tucked into the far northwest corner of Ukraine’s Volynia province and a stone’s throw from the country’s borders with Belarus and Poland. In 1941, the young men of the village — including my grandfather and great-uncle — fled in the dead of night, convinced that the Germans would treat the village much as they did during World War I, when only men were targeted — for conscription.
This time around, the logic was that if the men were gone, what would the advancing soldiers want with a town full of women, children and the elderly? It was a miscalculation, and more than 1,000 Jews in the Shatsk area were shot into a mass grave by Black Lake, now part of one of Ukraine’s national parks.
For me and my family, Shatsk has always seemed like an impossibly exotic travel destination. I found it hard to believe that, as the Ukrainian census informed me, about 6,000 people lived there. Or that it had a nightclub called Sinatra and several ATMs.”
My column on my return to my family’s ancestral Ukrainian village last month.
Nearly half an hour after Rosh Hashanah services were set to begin, the congregation in this chilly city still was one man short of a minyan. But as the small group of Jewish expats and their Icelandic spouses mingled and waited, no one complained.
After all, what’s 30 minutes to a community that’s been waiting more than 60 years?