Wilmette, Community

Local cantor preparing community concert on April 7 to support home country of Ukraine

Cantor Pavel Roytman is known for the passion behind his music. His latest work, however, takes that to another level. 

Roytman, of Wilmette, was born in Ukraine, and since Russia invaded his home country, he has dedicated much of his time to supporting the people of Ukraine through music and musical fundraisers. 

Thanks to Roytman, the fundraising is coming to town on Thursday, April 7, when he will host a concert to benefit Ukraine at his synagogue, Beth Hillel Bnai Emunah, 3220 Big Tree Lane, Wilmette.

Joining Roytman will be a slew of Ukrainian and Ukrainian-American musicians, and he is inviting the entire community to attend. 

“We’re trying to bring people from the Ukrainian community. These are amazing musicians, whose lives have been affected,” Roytman said. “ …  Anything that would move people and give to the Ukrainian community.”

Pavel Roytman playing piano as a boy in Ukraine. | www.cantorpavelroytman.com

Roytman is a native of Nikolaev (also called Mykolaiv) in southern Ukraine. It is one of several Ukrainian communities that Russian forces have attacked on the road west to Odesa, Ukraine’s third largest city.  

While Roytman left Nikolaev when he was 7 to attend a prestigious music school in Russia, he often traveled between the countries for years to visit family and friends. He still has friends in Nikolaev and heard from one of them when the war began.

“It is surreal to say the least … to see your hometown in the news — to see people being killed and buildings destroyed,” Roytman said. “A friend of mine I haven’t seen in many years started texting me. Every night I try to send supportive texts.”

“I sit in front of the TV and it kind of looks like a bad movie. Then I get a text saying, ‘They’re bombing us.’ I see it on TV. I don’t know at times what to tell him. ‘Just hang in there and help is on the way.’” 

Roytman moved to the Chicago area in 1994 and has served as Beth Hillel’s cantor nearly all of his time in Wilmette.

Like many Ukrainians, Roytman did not believe the Russians would initiate a land war with Ukraine until the day they did on Feb. 24.

Roytman performs at Beth Hillel in 2019.

Since that time, Roytman has used his talents and connections to support Ukraine. He joined with his peers from the Cantors Assembly, a national association of Jewish musical leaders, to put on “Ruach Ukraine: Music For Peace and Solidarity,” a digital fundraiser viewed worldwide by more than 250,000 people.

Funds collected during the upcoming April 7 fundraiser in Wilmette will be passed on to nonprofits supporting the people of Ukraine in multiple ways, from humanitarian and refugee aid (Jewish United Fund), to medical-supply delivery, to orphan support.

“Orphanages (which) unfortunately are going to be filled after this war,” Roytman said.

Being a resident of Russia for years, Roytman also noted that “ordinary Russians are suffering as well. People are dying. … Just have a sense of compassion in general. Not all Russians are guilty of crimes.”

It makes Roytman proud to see how Americans swiftly began supporting Ukrainians with fundraisers and charity drives across the nation. He encourages everyone, though, to try to experience one of the events in person, such as the charity concert Thursday, April 7, at Beth Hillel Bnai Emunah.

“It’s been unbelievable effort by everybody,” he said. “At the same time very often we make our decisions because we see things on TV and we don’t necessarily come in contact with real people. I encourage everybody to learn about the lives of everyday Ukrainians. It’s important to make connections because … (then) you know a human story and know you are making a difference. I think this is very, very important.”

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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