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Reflections from Babi Yar

The first time I heard about Babi Yar was when I was in high school in summer camp.  We learned the powerful poem written in the 1960’s by the Russian poet Yevtushenko which was a scorching indictment of Soviet Russia for neglecting and whitewashing the tragedy that took place in the forest on the outskirts of Kiev. Over 33,000 Jews were murdered there by the Nazis during three days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in 1941.  Yet as the poem’s opening words which I still remember to this day hauntingly state, “There is no memorial at Babi Yar…”


The poet was referring to the lack of any recognition by the Soviet communists that over 100,000 Jews were shot in the forest.  Today a menorah marks the site.  The delegation of rabbis read poems, said prayers, lit candles, chanted Hebrew psalms and shed tears.  Our presence was a powerful repudiation of the Nazi plan to eradicate Judaism by attempting to annihilate the Jewish people.


As I stood at the ravine I noticed that our non-Jewish tour guide was overcome with emotion and stood and cried with us.


Although I had hand and feet warmers and long underwear I deliberately chose not to bring them with me.  I did not want to stand in comfort, but to feel the snow and the cold, to imagine the suffering that took place here.

Also published on Medium.


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Stuart Weinblatt

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt is the President of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America. From 2009 - 2014 he served as Director of Israel Policy and Advocacy for the Rabbinical Assembly.
Rabbi Weinblatt is the rabbi of Congregation B'nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, a vibrant Conservative synagogue of 650 families he founded in 1988, along with his wife and a handful of families.