• ChernovitzHow does one give life to the mystery called “Jewish Life in Chernovich”? What do points on the map have to tell us about the lives of people that lay behind them?  What do the buildings tell of the words of the local poet Paul Tzelen, or of the moving fables of Itzik Manger, also a local, who despite desperate poverty continued to write? The names and addresses, we found had no face. The city remained a riddle to us. Quickly we discovered that the answer was not to be found in books. That we must get out to the streets. For a two week span room 414 in the Bokovina Hotel was transformed into a unit dedicated solely to the challenging mission of mapping Jewish Chernovich.

    Out and about the streets of Chernovich, we were impressed by the architecture and the ancient buildings but the stories we were looking for refused to reveal themselves. The city’s face divulged no clue to the vital life we had read about in books. The buildings had changed; the color, size, and external walls had all changed. Buildings had become sport centers and art and textile studios.  In some cases they were no longer there. As it turns out, buildings can have a long life span but their memory tends to be shorter, especially when it concerns the people that inhabited them.

    Everything changed the first moment we knocked on a door. The locals welcomed us into their homes and into the living history of the city, to its stories and memories. For example, we discovered the Jewish students ‘dorms through Tanya Ishinko who opened her home to us. She led us through the building’s different floors and hallways. Right in front of our eyes she revived Jewish student life in Chernovich on the brink of World War II. The tour of the Jewish dorms introduced us to the Jewish students’ lifestyle- the small rooms, the long hallways, the close proximity to main streets, just ten meters from the impressive Heidie Theatre. It was clear that the location of the dorms shed light on its tenants, a people of books and culture. Thanks to the people we met, we visited many other places and were able to feel, if just a little, what the city once was like and the great influence its significant past has on life there today.

    For some of us the journey to Chernovich was a search for our own heritage. When Shally, a member of the group walked down Kovlanskiya Street the stories that his grandmother told him of her childhood came alive. Suddenly he saw his grandmother’s house, the La Dracou coffee house where she sat with friends and met his grandfather, Emille, for the first time. Another participant in the group went out to the streets of Barbiusa to document the Jewish structures on the street, and found the house where her grandmother had lived before immigrating to Brazil. Visiting this house completed a significant part of her identity.

    A week and a half of intense wandering throughout the city and pinpointing lot of points on the map. We found areas, located addresses and documented structures. But we found much more. We met the Jews that are living there today and we were able to feel how it was before and after the war. We followed the words of Jewish poets who wrote about the sites and life of Jewish Chernovich. We studied the buildings and the synagogues and the different languages. We tried to understand how a whole community lived here and what impression it left on the city. We hope that the map that we put together on this journey will enable every tourist and resident in the city to learn about the Jewish life that was and how it is an inseparable part of what the city is today.

  • 4 Comments

    Take a look at some of the responses we've had to this article.

    1. Lynne Moshe
      Posted on October 24th

      What country is Chernovich in?

      My grandmother came to the US in 1907 and she said she was from Chernovich.

    2. Pamela Deutsch
      Posted on October 25th

      Chernovich is in the Ukraine – check out Journey into the Jewish Heritage for more information!

    3. yossi yaniv
      Posted on April 28th

      I made a family roots trip to Chernovich, and I found my father home in 21 Noviembre st (then called – Franzensgasse) no 58. Then I understood why my father loved so much the beauty of his hometown

    4. Posted on February 15th

      My Parents was born in Chenovitch and were deported to Siberia during the war. In the Library of Congress there is a book about my father Gavriel Zapolyanski “Shabbos Candles” – He is a wonderful artist – I am trying to organize a travling exhbition with his beautiful jewish folk art paintings – I am looking for individuals and friends who would like to be involved in this project

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