Missing Kiev Statue Touches Off Frenzy

By Jennifer Siegel

Published May 20, 2005, issue of May 20, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

His name may double as a greeting of “hello,” but a recent statue of Sholom Aleichem went missing before anyone could say goodbye.

A bronze statue of the author disappeared from a central square in Kiev several weeks ago, touching off an international frenzy — fueled by speculation on the Internet — about its whereabouts. Although witnesses saw several men remove the statue with a crane, its location has been under dispute. A Russian-American newspaper, Novoe Ruskoye Slovo, blamed “unknown vandals.” Several Web sites said the statue was hacked into pieces and sold for easy money. Sidney Gluck, president of the American-based Sholom Aleichem Memorial Foundation, decried the hole that was left behind as an undignified “spittoon and garbage dump.”

The widespread concern about the statue’s fate reflects Sholom Aleichem’s pre-eminence: More than 90 years after his death, the Ukrainian-born writer’s vivid depictions of shtetl life still serve as a nostalgic time capsule of a lost world. (His most famous character, Tevye the Milkman, recently re-emerged in a Broadway revival of “Fiddler on the Roof.”) It also indicates uneasiness about the position of the hundreds of thousands of Jews within Ukraine. Attacks against Jews have escalated in recent years, according to Nikolai Butkevich, research director of the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union. Several weeks ago, skinheads attacked a Jewish youth outside Kiev’s Brodsky synagogue, steps away from where the Sholom Aleichem statue once stood on Rognedinsky Street.

“We have serious questions about the attitudes of the new government,” said Gluck, referring to the administration of the newly elected president, Viktor Yushchenko. “We’re afraid this is a sign of increased antisemitism. There is a cloud of silence over the whole [statue] thing.”

But according to Vaad of Ukraine’s chairman, Joseph Zissels, who is a member of the executive board of the Eurasian Jewish Congress, the real story is one of simple miscommunication. No vandals or bandits took away the statue; it was simply removed for routine refurbishment, he told the Forward through a translator. The work is being done by a private contractor and paid for by the Jewish Council of Ukraine. The statue will be reinstalled in the next few weeks.

Zissels said the rumors about the statue’s disappearance gained currency, in part, because Rabbi Moshe Asman, head of Ukraine’s Lubavitch movement, did not know about the refurbishment. Asman was quoted in several news sources, including Nova Rusky Slovo, as being “outraged at the vandals.”

People tend to expect the worst, Zissels said, adding that while the situation for Jews in Ukraine is not ideal, he is hopeful that it is improving. The number of antisemitic statements by the media has decreased since Yushchenko recently denounced them, he said.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks? http://jd.fo/d4kkV
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.