During the first 9 days of the Hebrew month of Av, we especially mourn for the destruction of our Holy Temple and our exile. Rebbe Nachman of Breslev says that anywhere Jews live and serve Hashem is holy land as well. As such, this is also the proper time to lament over the Jewish communities around the world that were destroyed. When in the Ukraine recently, I returned to the hometown of my paternal grandfather, Yanov. Half of Yanov's Jews were killed in the pogroms of 1903-1909. My grandfather left the Ukraine for Canada in 1907. The remaining Jews - including many of our cousins - were wiped out by the Nazis in 1942 and are buried in two communal graves of 1000 (Jews of Yanov proper) and 2500 (Jews transported from other areas). There's barely a place in the Ukraine where one can walk without stepping on Jewish blood.
Photo one: The Well on the plot of land that belonged to my family.
Photo two: The Homestead that once belonged to Reb Chatzkel Litvak, ob'm, my great grandfather
Photo 3 - Lake Yanov, where my grandfather used to ice-fish and catch 25-pound carp
Photo 4 - Yanov's 160+ year-old cobblestone street - a road into the past
Photo 5 - The bitter end of Yanov's Jews
Photo 6 - We won! My Chabad friends say, "Didan Notzach." In other words, evil did not succeed in finishing us off. On the contrary, North American assimilation murdered many of my relatives' souls even after they escaped from the Cossacks and from Hitler. Yet, despite it all, here we are back in Yanov, wiping away the break of two generations that slid away from Yiddishkeit, looking, dressing, and acting just like my great grandfather Chatzkel, a Breslover chossid and descendant of Rebbe Itzikel Drovitcher zatza'l. We are certainly the winners, and we shall continue to overcome, by clinging to our unwavering emuna, amen.