One of the most interesting aspects of Jewish Renewal in the former Soviet Union is the focus, in many of the Jewish communities, on the past. A colleague once defined this focus sharply for me. "This," he said, "is a community that defines its present by its past." And the past is most starkly defined by the community's relation to the Shoah (Holocaust).
In community after community, one of the most notable aspects of defining Jewish identity in the FSU is the memorialization of the Shoah. In some respects, Shoah memorialization is one of the strongest definitions of Jewish communal identity. And there's a very good reason for that. For so many years, Jews in the FSU weren't even allowed to recognize their dead publicly. In the rare places where Nazi massacres were commemorated, such as Babi Yar near Kiev, the victims were always seen by the Soviets as "victims of fascism." They were never recognized for what they were, Jews.
With the collapse of the USSR, a massive exploration of the Nazi atrocities was finally allowed to find its public voice.
And for communities that, sixty and seventy years ago, were never allowed to publicly mourn their dead as Jews, the new wave of memorials, lectures, statues and educational efforts are critical .... not just in remembering the past, but in defining their renewed Jewish identity.