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October 18, 1991 - Image 41

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-10-18

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Once Upon A Time In America

The Ukrainian•American community is asking itself some painful questions
about maintaining a national culture in melting pot America.
Sound familiar?


Staff Writer


arren's Ukrainian
Cultural Center
doesn't have a
sauna. It doesn't have a pool.
Or an art gallery. Or a res-
taurant. To compare it to the
Jewish Community Center
on Maple Road would not
only be unfair. It would be
But Detroit's Ukrainian
community has much in
common with the Jewish
community. Both strive for
something that could not,
until recently, exist in their
homelands: a culture based
on distinct national tradi-
Not surprisingly, the im-
minence of Ukrainian in-
dependence from Soviet con-
trol has created in the
Ukrainian community reac-
tions reminiscent of what
Jewish Americans in 1948
felt following the creation of
the State of Israel.
Witness the following:
• Ukrainian-American
experts in management, pol-
itics and business are help-
ing the Ukraine build an
economic and political in-
• Ukrainian-American
lobbyists are rallying for of-
ficial American recognition
of a separate Ukrainian
• Churches, schools and a
variety of community groups
teach Ukrainian, publish
Ukrainian-language news-
papers and books, run
Ukrainian-American coun-
try clubs and provide an
assortment of assistance
programs for Ukrainian-
American families.
• A program started by a
Ukrainian-American pro-
fessor at Wayne State Uni-
versity will host 24 Ukrai-
nian students for business
management classes.
- With this growing en-
thusiasm, the Ukrainian
community is asking itself
some all-too-familiar ques-
tions. To what extent does
loyalty to the motherland
lie? Will energy devoted to
the Ukraine become a
substitute for substantive

Illustration by Bob Lynch


Ukrainian culture in
America? Will the Ukraine
resuscitate an ethnic com-
munity in America that
needs cultural rejuvenation?
What role does a diaspora
community have to play in
relation to the political direc-
tion of the redeemed mother-
Between the two com-
munities in the United
States, the differences
outweigh the likenesses.
And yet the issues remain.
The American Jewish corn-
munity has built much of its
agenda around Israel, a
nation which is both a source
of pride and pain. For many
American Jews, support for
Israel constitutes their en-
tire Jewish experience.
The Ukrainian community
has taken notice. It admires
the Jewish community, its
financial and political
weight and willingness to
use it. It has noticed how
Jewish Americans focus on
Israel, how it raises funds for
it and, perhaps most crucial-

ly, how it fends off charges of
dual loyalty.
In the Ukrainian commun-
ity, these are still emerging
"We carry a burden for the
fate of another nation," said
Borys Potapenko, director of
the Ukrainian Cultural
Center. "It's been on the
threshold of extinction for
many years now."
For many Ukrainians,

Will energy devoted
to the Ukraine
become a
substitute for
Ukrainian culture in

ethnic identification often
came from a sense of soli-
darity with the native land.
Like other ethnic groups in
America, including Jews,
Ukrainians have used poli-
tics as communal fodder.
"It's a feeling among cer-

tain individuals," said Jerry
Dutkewych, a hospital ad-
ministrator. "Part of it is the
giving back."
Mr. Dutkewych is doing
more than giving back. Born
a refugee after World War II
in Germany, he has cousins
he has never met. Soon,
however, he will return to
Ukraine to teach a general
management course at the
University of Lvov. In order
to take the time to teach, he
is quitting his job at the
Henry Ford Health Care
He has no desire to give up
his American citizenship or
his American way of life. Mr.
Dutkewych is hoping to
rebuild the Ukraine, but
also to consult with Western
industrialists on investing
in the Ukraine's vast natural
and industrial resources.
To the 130,000 Ukrainians
in the Detroit area, however,
the Ukraine's independence
is more than an opportunity
to consult. They have rallied
around the Ukraine's cul-

ture, language and commun-
"Prior to two years ago,
when the Ukraine was
unable to articulate its will,
it was up to the diaspora to
speak out about the truth of
the rights of the Ukrainian
nation," said Mr. Potapenko,
a child of Ukrainian refu-
gees from World War II.
Now, with independence
looming, the Ukrainian
diaspora finds itself suffer-
ing from an identity crisis.
While most Ukrainian-
Americans are rejoicing for
their motherland, cultural
assimilation among them
has risen and, at the same
time, their community's po-
litical significance has
Sound familiar? Since
Israel's independence,
American Jews routinely
wrestle with the argument
that Israel is the only place
where a self-respecting Jew
can live.
At the same time, Ameri-
can Jews have experienced
an alarming drop in re-
ligious involvement. Many
have concluded that the only
way to solve both problems
is to move to Israel. And yet
few American Jews do, or
want to.
The Ukrainian community
in America is just beginning
to see these problems
In the 1950s, many of the
recent arrivals from the
ravages of Europe suffered
from a "don't unpack syn-
drome." They refused to buy
homes or make long-term
investments for fear that, at
any point, the motherland
would rise and they would be
called to duty.
Now, however, the Ukrai-
nian-American community
is well-settled. There is vir-
tually no Ukrainian who
does not have family in the
Ukraine, says Mr.
Potapenko, and yet he
doubts whether even ten
percent of Ukrainian-
Americans will return to the
"I think we'd be lying to
ourselves if we said we're go-
ing back as a community,"
said Mike Berezowsky, a
lawyer who directs a Satur-



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