Global Jewish Reflections | This Shemini Atzeret, Volunteering to Remember

In honor of Shemini Atzeret, Sasha Nazar, head of the JDC-supported Lviv Volunteer Center, writes about his work cleaning Jewish cemeteries in small towns where there have been no Jews for more than 70 years, and why he finds it so meaningful.

By Sasha Nazar - director, Lviv Volunteer Center | October 8, 2020

Sasha Nazar (front left) and a team of volunteers remove headstones recovered behind the wall of an empty house in Lviv.

Global Jewish Reflections is a recurring feature highlighting the spiritual wisdom of rabbis, Jewish educators, and others from around the JDC world.

As a child, I spent every summer in the countryside outside of Lviv, near the village where the Ukrainian part of my family, my paternal side, comes from. Each year, my Jewish maternal grandfather would visit me regularly, and together we’d walk for hours around small towns that were once 50 percent Jewish or more. He showed me places connected to Jewish history, and I learned a lot.

Today there are no Jews in these villages, and I consider it my duty to look after these Jewishsites as best I can. I did this before I began working at Lviv’s JDC-supported Volunteer Center, but since I began working there, it’s become my full-time job and my true passion.

Sasha Nazar, exploring the Jewish history of Lviv.

My dad is Ukrainian, and my mom is Jewish. Mom and her parents were active participants in therevival of Jewish life in Lviv, which dates back to 1988, when this was still the territory of the Soviet Union. In 1990, my grandfather helped start the Shofar newspaper, which is still published monthly. My grandmother, working with my mother, founded a Sundayschool that hundreds of children passed through; she also directed an ulpan thathelped people learn Hebrew. I grew up totally surrounded by an improbable, vibrant Jewish community, and I loved it.

When I became a university student, I began volunteering, and I chose to dedicate my time toJewish organizations. For me, volunteering is a way of life — what it boils down to is that when you receive something, you need to give back in return. And when people see the results of their help and hard work, it inspires them to do even more. The gratitudeof the people we help is very inspiring.

More than 120 people participate regularly in our Volunteer Center activities, but during biggerprojects like Good Deeds Day, for example, up to 400 volunteers answer the call. We’re focused on giving assistance to vulnerable members of the Jewish community — at-risk children, poor families, and the isolated elderly. When the COVID-19 pandemic began,we had to adjust as the number of people in need grew. I’m proud of how our team met the moment, continuing to provide aid to the people who depend on us.

I’m particularly proud of our projects dedicated to preserving Jewish heritage in and aroundLviv. We clean cemeteries in small towns in the region, places where there unfortunately have been no Jews for more than 70 years. The local population often doesn’t consider these sites part of their history, but by cleaning them, we make them think aboutthese places.