At the invitation of Rohatyn English teachers Nataliya Olvach and Ruslana Okrepka, Thursday morning this past week I met with students participating in a three-week intensive English language summer camp at Gymnasium #1 located at the corner of vul. Halytska and vul. Shevchenko, across from Roksolana Square. Nataliya had seen on Facebook a few days earlier that Rohatyn Jewish Heritage was already in town working with the UK archaeology team conducting a 9-day non-invasive survey of Jewish mass grave sites in town.
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About three dozen students were present together with American Peace Corps Volunteer in Rohatyn Casey Peel and the Gymnasium’s Deputy Director Yuliana Martynok. My talk, entitled “Remembering Jewish Rohatyn”, lasted about 35 minutes and was accompanied by 65 slides on topics ranging from Rohatyn’s prewar multi-ethnic community, my Jewish family, and the projects of Rohatyn Jewish Heritage over the last 6 years. This last topic featured our work with local historian Mykhailo Vorobets on the recovery of Jewish headstones and their return to the old Jewish cemetery in town.
Rohatyn Jewish descendant Ruthy Erez, who had arrived in Rohatyn from Israel a few days earlier to support the archaeology work, joined the discussion and also made a presentation about genealogy resources on the internet and her family connections to Rohatyn and nearby Kniahynychi. I suppose that for many of those present, this was their first time meeting living Jewish descendants of Rohatyn.
As Nataliya and Ruslana anticipated, the hour-long discussion provided an excellent opportunity for the students to listen to a native English speaker from America, plus exercise their English skills in the question and answer session that followed. With Ruthy, the students also had a chance to hear English spoken with an Israeli accent. The students followed and joined the discussion without difficulties.
Facebook has provided an excellent medium for us to stay in touch with students and teachers we have met over the years in Rohatyn. Both Nataliya and Ruslana attended my talk in 2012 for teachers and students at the nearby Ukrainian college. At that lecture, Alex Denysenko acted as interpreter and translator.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the students and teachers graciously gave me a lovely box of French chocolate truffles and an open invitation to return and speak again. I very much look forward to coming back soon. Nataliya and I also briefly discussed bringing Ternopil teachers Kateryna Tsybulska and Nataliya Porokhnyak to Rohatyn to discuss their experiences working in the Centropa cross-borders education program. I promised to speak with them about this opportunity.