Ukrainian-Canadian Leader Endows Jewish Studies Chairs
at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine
James Temerty, chairman of the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter Initiative (UJE) has donated $1.2M to establish three endowed chairs in Jewish Studies at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine. The programs will focus on Ukrainian-Jewish interaction over the centuries, and interfaith relations; Jewish studies in the context of Central and East European history; and biblical studies. The endowment pledge was made in November of this year during the Toronto visit of the rector of the UCU, the Rt. Rev. Borys Gudziak.
“This university represents the opportunity for research in all aspects of Ukrainian Jewish life where Ukrainians and Jews lived side by side helping shape the history and destiny of the territory known as Ukraine today”, said Mr. Temerty. “It is the place where the work of the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter can further its vision to advance greater mutual, empathetic understanding, and mutual support, between the two peoples and sets of communities and enable a coming to terms with the painful aspects of the relationship and elements in their respective formative histories that have affected how they think of themselves and each other”.
Rev. Gudziak, declared that “the generous pledge made by philanthropist James Temerty is of seminal significance for the Ukrainian Catholic University as it develops new programs. His outstanding endowment, for which we are most grateful, transcends strictly academic concerns,” he said.
“Through the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter he founded, Mr. Temerty champions discussion of difficult questions that cannot be avoided any longer. UCU has sought in its social, theological, and historical programs to fill in the gaping thematic vacuum left by Soviet ideological control that ravaged the humanities and continues to have broad ramifications stunting Ukraine’s social development. Compelling topics in history and religion such as Ukrainian-Jewish relations throughout the centuries have been all but ignored by scholars, even in independent Ukraine. These topics can be searingly painful. Studying them requires great sensitivity and responsibility, courage and honesty,” he continued.
“ Such study can also bring to the fore profoundly inspiring stories of virtue and heroism, uncover histories of centuries long peaceful and fruitful co-existence, and reveal rich shared cultural legacies of which we remain largely ignorant. We are honored that Mr. Temerty has recognized the work conducted by UCU scholars in recent years. We are thrilled that he deemed UCU to be the institution in Ukraine capable of confronting subject matter that needs to be explored if we are to find truth and reconciliation in our historical awareness and spiritual consciousness. Ultimately, this is a pre-condition for full integration of Ukraine into the global community of mature nations. The fact that Mr. Temerty is an Orthodox Canadian-Ukrainian gives added international, ecumenical, and inter-religious significance to this singular benefaction,” Father Gudziak concluded
Mr. Temerty, founder and chairman of Toronto-based Northland Power, is originally from the Donbass region in Eastern Ukraine and a prominent member of the Canada’s Ukrainian community. He founded the Ukrainian-Jewish Encounter Initiative (UJE) in 2008 as a private multinational project that aims to build a sound foundation for future interaction among generations of Jews and Ukrainians – in Ukraine and Israel, and in the Diaspora communities, Canada in particular. UJE’s goals are to deepen understanding of the breadth, complexity, and diversity of Ukrainian-Jewish relations historically; to treat embedded stereotypes and secure an authentic connection to the past; and to enable each of these two peoples to understand and empathize with the other’s historical experience and narratives. To advance these goals, UJE has convened a series of expert meetings and working conferences, engaging close to two hundred scholars and experts in developing a collaborative, truthful and insightful account of the relationship over the centuries. This shared historical narrative will provide the basis for a range of products and activities to reach wider audiences, including university courses, publications, dedicated websites, museum exhibits, films, television and cultural programming.
Eminent Jewish figures have noted the significance of the initiative. Canadian MP and former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said: “I commend UJE Chair James Temerty for his extraordinary initiative in founding and funding of three endowed Chairs in Jewish Studies at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. This is a singular contribution both to scholarship, to the Ukrainian-Jewish Encounter, and to the advancement of inter-faith and cross-cultural relations. It is a milestone initiative that warrants international recognition and support.”
The Ukrainian Catholic University is one of Ukraine’s leading educational institutions and the only Catholic university between Poland and Japan. It is located in Lviv, the principal city of Western Ukraine, ( the region is also known as Galicia) which was a major center of Jewish population and culture before World War II. UCU’s founder, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky himself saved over 200 Jews during the war and preached tolerance between the two peoples. The university was closed by the Soviets in 1944 and was re-established in 2002.
“Mr. Temerty’s financial support opens new horizons for UCU. We have always wanted to plunge more deeply into the legacy of previous generations of ethnic Ukrainians and Jews who lived on historically Ukrainian lands. This legacy knows not on. ly pain and injustice, but also the experience of tolerant co-existence and mutual assistance. In order to guarantee a humane outline for the future, we must not forget the former and actively the experience the latter. For example, the spiritual inheritance of the Sheptytsky brothers alone, Andrey and Klymentiy, is sufficient to reveal to the contemporary person all the beauty of the love of humanity,” said Myroslav Marynovych, the vice rector at the Ukrainian Catholic University.
A human rights activist, who served time in Soviet prisons, Mr. Marynovych added: “Mutual tolerance creates the conditions for learning how to hear one another and to respond to one another’s needs. We, Ukrainian and Jewish dissidents, in Soviet times came to know the strength of this position in jails and camps. Today the time has come to study the accumulated historical experience and offer it to all of society.”
Prominent historian the Rt Honourable Sir Martin Gilbert observed: “It will help advance the cause to which we all feel so committed. It is good deeds such as this that help repair the world.”
Mark Freiman, the noted Jewish community leader who, among other roles, has served as President of Canadian Jewish Congress, observed that “For hundreds of years Ukrainians and Jews lived as neighbors on the territory of present day Western Ukraine. The rich, complex and ultimately tragic story of the Jewish sojourn in Eastern Galicia occupies a central place in the narrative of both communities. Jim Temerty’s generous and far-sighted endowment, like his admirable support for projects ranging from the landmark Ukrainian-Jewish encounter to my own initiative for proper memorialization of the mass graves of victims of the Shoah in Sambir, reflects his clear understanding of the centrality of this story and its lessons for modern Jews and Ukrainians alike. Through his efforts the memory of Jewish history, religion and culture will be preserved and enriched in the place that was once their epicenter. Like UJE itself, the UCU project is not simply retrospective, but also dynamically forward-looking as it establishes a firm foundation for both Ukrainian and Jewish communities to build a productive and meaningful future relationship, based on a mature understanding and appreciation of the past, but not imprisoned by it.”
UJE has previously supported the introduction and expansion of university-level courses treating the (shared) history of Jews and Ukrainians, at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. UJE is working to establish a network of universities, to include leading institutions in Canada, the US, UK, Israel, and Ukraine, to collaboratively develop and deliver courses, including online offerings, for both academic and wider audiences, treating Ukrainian-Jewish interaction over the centuries. UJE is also supporting a series of two-week courses by visiting lecturers from Israel at universities in Ukraine.
Another current issue UJE is addressing, in collaboration with others, is the neglect of mass graves from World War II, and the 1930s. Many hundreds of thousands of victims, Jewish, Christian and other, lie in unmarked and unprotected mass graves across Ukraine. Their protection and proper memorialization is today a compelling moral and societal imperative.
An additional $100,000 was donated toward these chairs by Borys Wrzesniewskyj, former MP for Etobicoke Centre. He did so, he noted, because”the epicentre of humanity’s most horrific killings took place in the bloodlands of Galicia. It is where the local population was sequentially occupied by the armies of the world’s most cruel and prolific killers: Stalin, Hitler, and then once again Stalin. It is there that Hitler’s Nazi killing machine reached the pinnacle of Holocaust killings, the ‘Holocaust by bullets.’ These crimes and the history of those who lie in the thousands of mass graves in Galicia were suppressed by Stalin’s Soviet regime. During the ensuing atheist Soviet era, the Ukrainian Catholic Church was in the catacombs with thousands of its believers martyred. It is upon these foundations that the miracle of the Ukrainian Catholic University has been built. It is appropriate that the Temerty endowment will be located in Galicia, where the heart of the 20th century’s greatest darkness took place, to ensure that this evil chapter in history will never be forgotten nor repeated. The bones of our brothers and sisters continue to speak to us from below the earth.”