Author’s Visits to Ukraine Inform History and Inspire a Memoir
In April, 2011, Robert Belenky set off on a trip to Ukraine. His goal was to record the memories of Jews who survived the era spanning post-Revolutionary Russia, the Holocaust, and World War II
Belenky had a special interest in that period. It began with his father, Max, a Russian Jew who, barred from the land, longed to be a farmer. Max emigrated to the United States early in the 20th Century and, after the Revolution, he helped bring tractors to Jewish collective farms. And, as head of a tractor team, he taught people to use them.
“Settlers were for the most part neither Bolsheviks nor Zionists but rather non-ideologically committed poor people seeking a better life ….” Belenky writes in this important book, part memoir, part Jewish history.
“These were Jews who wanted most of all to be contributing members of the new Soviet society.” Jews were now encouraged to settle the land. Official anti-Semitism evaporated and optimism flourished. “The focus was on building a new society, having a better life and ultimately a better world.
Belenky’s book describes a personal and poignant journey to record stories told by people whom time and history have all but forgotten.
A child psychologist, Belenky’s work life has been in schools, communities and institutions. For fifteen years, his office was in a Vermont forest where children and parents would come for a day or so to think through personal or family issues.
On retirement in1995, Belenky made frequent visits to Haiti and Russia to learn how young people grow up when natural families are unavailable. He has taught at Harvard, Boston University, and Concordia University and was the founding dean of Goddard College’s individualized master’s degree program.