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!
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • 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.