Ukraine was the birthplace of the Hasidic movement and has a rich legacy of Yiddish culture, but it’s also been the site of horrific antisemitism.
An all-out war between Ukraine and Russia has begun. What does this all mean? How does it impact Ukraine’s Jewish community?
How big is the Jewish community of Ukraine?
Today, it’s hard to calculate Ukraine’s Jewish population. Estimates range from 49,000 to 400,000. Hebrew University demographer Sergio Della Pergola put the number at 49,000 in his “World Jewish Population, 2019,” while The European Jewish Congress estimates the number of Jews to be between 360,000 and 400,000.
Who are the Jews of Ukraine?
The history of Jews in Ukraine dates back more than 1,000 years — historians speculate that Jews have lived in the area since at least the 9th century. Ukraine is the birthplace of the Hasidic movement, which arose in the 18th century as a spiritual revival movement with a focus on mysticism in opposition to formal and scholarly approach to Jewish practice. The founder of Hasidism, Rabbi Israel Ben Eliezer (commonly known as the Baal Shem Tov) was born and died in Ukraine. Another one of Orthodox Judaism’s largest sects has roots in Ukraine. Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known simply as “The Rebbe” to members of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, was born on April 5, 1902, in the Black Sea port of present day Mykolaiv, Ukraine.