Some of the old streets here are still paved with cobblestone, horse and wagons on the country roads is not a rare sight, and most of the houses are kept in the same style and with the same decorations as has been for hundreds of years. This is the province of Ternopol in Ukraine, the eastern part of the historical region of Galica. Jews have lived in this region since the Middle Ages when the Polish rulers allowed them to settle here. Chassidism spread rapidly throughout entire Galicia from the neighboring region of Podolye, to the south-east. For centuries before the Holocaust, Ternopol had been a vibrant Jewish community of hundreds of thousands with dozens of synagogues and several famous learning centers. As a result of the Holocaust and fifty years of communist rule, however, there have remained only a hundred or so Jews in the entire province. We came to Ternopol from Yeshiva Tiferes Bachurim of Morristown, NJ, to meet with as many of those Jews as possible, reconnect them with their heritage and to help them maintain a connection with the Chabad rabbi in Zhitomir responsible for the small communities in Western Ukraine, Rabbi Nochum Tamarin.

Soon after our arrival we began visiting the local Jews in the capital city of Ternopol. Throughout our journey visiting Jews in different parts of the city we noticed that some have maintained some Jewish identity and knowledge either from childhood or by learning about it from parents of grandparents. For example, we met an old lady who lost her entire family in the Holocaust when she was a teenager. Since then until recent years she had had no connection with any religious Jews, but nonetheless, she told us, that she starts every morning with the Modeh Ani prayer and every Friday she lights candles like her mother taught her. She also told us that she remembers how her father could not afford a shtreiml (traditional chassidic fur Shabbat hat) and used to say, "I wonder if I will ever be able to afford one."

One of our functions in Ternopol was to organize simple Shabbat-day meals for as many of the local Jews as possible. We rented a small hall in a hotel downtown and served the food available to us. Our first Shabbat we had plenty of food that we brought from Kiev and Zhitomir, hence we were able to give out such things as chocolates and cookies. For challah, we used matzahs. For our second and last Shabbat, as we ran out of all of the food we had brought with us and the only kosher food available in town was fruit, pickles, and some canned fish. We ended up mostly serving a lot of fruit and made it into some sort of a fruit-Shabbat—and it worked out quite well! Both of the Shabbats everything went very nicely: we said a few words about the weekly Torah portion and Judaism in general, and answered some questions. Everyone seemed to like it and many expressed gratitude. For some this was the first Shabbat meal in their lives.

The lion's share of our stay in Ternopol consisted of traveling to all the towns and villages of the province where Jews are known to reside.

In the village of Horoshova we found a true treasure. Twelve Jews: an older lady with two daughters, each with a large family. Most of the children in both families are either teenagers or young adults. We put tefillin on three of the brothers for the first time and spent some time discussing Judaism with one of the families. Later we wrote down all their contact information and passed it on to Rabbi Tamarin at the end of our trip.

At the conclusion of our trip, on our way back, we visited the resting place of the Baal Shem Tov in Mezhibozh, a very special experience.

Overall, we feel that our trip was a success as we did come in contact with quite a few Jews from the Ternopol province. Most importantly we found many interested youths, which was one of our main objectives. We hope that with G‑d's help our small contribution to the development of Jewish life in Ternopol will bear plentiful fruit that will bring all the Jews of Ternopol and all the Jewish people to true and speedy Redemption!

The Baal Shem Tov's synagogue
The Baal Shem Tov's synagogue