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The tour’s other leader was Rabbi “Benny” Lau, a knowledgeable and openhearted rabbi who would be taking us to the cradle of the Hassidic movement.
We began our tour in Kiev with Lola Gilbo, an articulate, humorous native of the city.
Put on the spot, I blurted out platitudes, saying that the country was beautiful and that the people were very nice.
I did add that most of the participants on our tour had roots in this very area: that their parents, grandparents, uncles and cousins had lived around here. Benjamin Lau, reminded the reporter that over two million Jews throughout the Soviet Union had been murdered in the Holocaust, and that the Ukraine had been left with virtually no Jewish population.
Hailed as a national hero for liberating Ukraine from Polish rule in 1648, he is considered the driving force behind atrocities carried out by his men against tens of thousands of Jews in the Tah and Tat pogroms that same year.
Early the next morning we set out for Babi Yar, site of a mass murder in 1941 on the edges of Kiev: over 33,000 of the city’s Jews were marched to a ravine and shot in cold blood.
Israel ben Eliezer, father of the Hassidic movement, often played hooky from school – or so it is said.The Russians who ruled Ukraine until 1991 wanted to plug up the gully and turn the infamous site into a lovely city park.But these plans were shelved after renowned Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote about Babi Yar and awakened many Russians to the horrors of anti-Semitism.“Did anyone in your group locate his family during the trip here? Get The Times of Israel's Daily Edition by email and never miss our top stories Free Sign Up And that about sums it up.Yes, we found them, throughout quaint, 19th-century villages, lovely little towns and bustling cities – in mass graves, overgrown cemeteries and the gully that was Babi Yar.