Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ukraine: Cemeteries and more

Travel writer Ruth Ellen Gruber's Jewish Heritage travel blog often comments on Jewish cemeteries visited during her travels. Here she writes about Dolina.

I wrote the other day about my visit to Bolekhiv and Stryj with Sergei Kravstov and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett.

After leaving Bolekhiv, we stopped briefly at a couple of other places en route back to L'viv.

At the village of Dolina, we looked at the synagogue...

Bolekhiv (Bolechow) of course, is the ancestral town of Daniel Mendelsohn, which he visited and described so vividly in his best-seller book, "The Lost."

She adds that from Dolina, they went to Galich (Halych), and what looked like a normal Jewish cemetery but was in reality that of the Karaite community. Ruth includes seven photos of the stones, most of which have very clear inscriptions.

Many writers confuse the origins of the Karaite movement, some call it Turkish or Iraqi in origin.

However, the truth is that the Karaite movement was founded in 9th-century Persia in the city of Nahavand and spread extensively across Eastern Europe and the Middle East. A large community existed in Cairo and other Middle Eastern countries, in the Russian Empire and in Iran.

A family friend back in Iran once tried to describe this group of people who lived in their small town. Our friend did not use the term Karaites or Karaim (Hebrew), but referred to them as Sabbateans or people who observed Shabbat strictly but were not really Jews, adding that there was complete separation between the traditional Jewish community and the Karaites.

The breakaway Jewish sect - there is a community in Israel and most of them came from Cairo - recognize the Torah and celebrate major holidays, modify other traditions, reject the Talmud and rabbinical Judaism. During the Holocaust, its members managed to convince the Nazis they were not Jews. Some Persian traditional Jews, caught in Europe at the wrong times, claimed they were Karaites and were saved in that way.

In Israel, the tradition exists that men and women marrying with traditional Jews must follow rabbinical Judaism. The Karaites, among other unusual customs, will not use fire (or electric), or eat warm food, etc. on Shabbat.

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