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VISIT TO JEWISH COMMUNITIES IN UKRAINE AND MOSCOW AND

RELATED MEETINGS IN JERUSALEM

OCTOBER 1993

 

Ukraine

 


Kiev1


1. Rabbi Yaakov Bleich, a Karliner Stoner Hasid from New York, is the Chief Rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine.2 In reviewing changes in the Kiev Jewish community since Betsy Gidwitz’s last visit in January, Rabbi Bleich spoke first of the establishment of a municipal Jewish Community Council which has already identified some 5,000 Jewish elderly in need of communal assistance. Some seniors are receiving weekly visits from volunteers who provide various types of humanitarian aid; others are seen on a less frequent basis. In addition to welfare, the council is also concerned with Jewish education, Jewish culture and Jewish youth activities. The council would soon elect its first governing board; all Jews in the city would be eligible to vote for candidates, some of whom would be nominated by Jewish organizations and others who would put forth their own names.

The Jewish day school operating under Rabbi Bleich’s auspices currently enrolls 600 students in separate sections for both boys and girls. Noting the difficulty of finding qualified Judaica teachers in Ukraine. Rabbi Bleich has hired ten experienced Karliner-Stolner teachers (five married couples) and six younger Karliner-Stolner single adults, all from the United States. The cost of the ten veteran instructors is $250,000. Rabbi Bleich said that all religious schools in the former Soviet Union also sufer from a lack of adequately prepared local teachers.

Rabbi Bleich has hired an experienced Israeli to direct a new Hebrew-language Jewish nursery school (for ages three and four) in Kiev. She is working withlocal apprentices who should be able to establish additional nursery schools, as well as kindergartens, in the future. The matter has assumed greater urgency as all Kiev preschools are now operated in the Ukrainian language, a tongue in which most Kiev Jews (who are Russian speaking) are comfortable. The current nursery school accommodates only twenty children, but expanded facilities will permit enrollment of an additional twenty youngsters in January. Rabbi Bleich’s goal is to develop five or six Hebrew-language pre-schools (ages three to five) throughout the city.

Rabbi Bleich also hopes to establish a teachers’ seminary that would prepare local Jews for teaching positions in various Jewish schools throughout the region. Ideally, such a seminary would offer daytime and evening classes to maximize opportunities for enrollment.

Although the Jewish tradition of Chicago has expressed interest in developing a relationship with the Jewish community of Kiev, no progress has been made in effecting such an association. The Chicago federation had promised $5,000 to the Joint Distribution Committee for renovation of a building in which JOC would house a Jewish library, but the building was condemned and no alternative links have been explored.

The capacity of the kosher bakery in Kiev has been expanded so that it can now supply kosher l’Pesach matzot for most of Ukraine. The Joint Distribution Committee and the Cummings Foundation have provided assistance in this endeavor.

2. Speaking of matters concerning all of Ukraine Jewry, Rabbi Bleich noted that the Second All-Ukrainian Conference of the Union of Religious Organizations would meet in Kiev later in October. Aware of the Boston jewish community’s interest in Dnipropetrovsk, Rabbi Bleich expressed his respect for Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzky of that
city. While acknowledging serious differences between the two men that reflected their distinctive Hasidic philosophies, Rabbi Bleich declared that Rabbi Kaminetzky was “one of the most successful rabbis” in the former Soviet Union. Rabbi Bleich admired the Dnipropetrovsk (Chabad) day school, which enrolled 650 children from a Jewish population much smaller than that of Kiev. Rabbi Bleich suggested that , in common with the day school in Kiev, the Dnipropetrovsk school would benefit from American or Israeli-trained teachers on its staff. Rabbi Bleich said that the various day schools in Ukraine would work together in curriculum development.

Rabbinic vacancies have now been filled in Donetsk (an appointment jointly sponsored by the Jewish Agency and JDC), Odessa,3 Chernovitz, and jointly for Mukachevo and Uzhgorod. Other communities are served on a part-time basis.

Of the lay organizations purporting to represent the Jewish population of Ukraine, Rabbi Bleich was most positive about the Associations of Jewish Organizations and Comminuties of Ukraine, chaired by Iosef Zissets. This group has fulfilled some important objectives and has definite goals and plans for the future.4 Rabbi Bleich was very critical of a second national group (of which he is a vice president), asserting that this organization was “self-important” and has no agenda.5

Rabbi Bleich expresses concern about the conference of Ukrainian Jewish women to be held in Kiev later this year. He has tried to work with the conference organizer, a well-intentioned American jewish woman, but she lacks direction and specific goals and does not appear to be well-informed about Jewish organizations in Israel and the diaspora that might provide assistance.

3. Makor,6 the Centre for the Support and Development of Jewish Youth Activities, is created by Alik Shteinsvet, a law student at Solomon Jewish University in Kiev and a former undergraduate Jewish activist. The center was established by the Student and Academic Campaign for Soviet Jewry. (Great Britain), with the guidance of Simon Klarfield.

It receives significant financial allocations from the Student and Academic Campaign and from the Jewish Community Development Fund (co-sponsored by the Moriah Fund and the Nathan Cummings Foundation). The Joint Distribution Committee also provides material support. Rabbi Bleich assists the organization as well.

Makor is a resource center for six Jewish youth groups in Kiev; teo Jewish student unions each with about twenty-five members; a Lishat haKesher-sponsored Bnei Akiva group, with about fifty members and occasional leadership visits from Israel; a Betar group with about thirty members; Shahar, sponsored by the Jewish Agency, with about one hundred members; and Hatikva, sponsored by the World Union of Progressive Judaism, with 150 to 200 members. Makor provides programmatic assistance and lands electronic equipment, books from its JDC-supplied library, and various other materials to the six youth organizations.

In response to a question, Mr. Shteinsvet said the most Jewish students in Ukraine would like to emigrate from the country, principally because the economic situation was grave and likely to deteriorate further. The majority of students would prefer to resettle in the United States, but it is difficult to obtain permission to do so without an invitation from first-degree relatives already residents there. If entry to the United States is impossible, students and other young people will go to Israel. Many families receive discouraging letters from relatives who have already made aliyah, but they will go to Israel rather than stay in Ukraine. Mr. Shteinsvet said that Hebrew ulpan classes sponsored by the Jewish Agency and the Lishka in Kiev are full and that emigration from Kiev to Israel is ongoing.


 


1. Betsy Gidwitz was in Kiev only briefly between flying into the Ukrainian capital and leaving for Dnipropetrovsk by overnight train. Time permitted only two appointments.

2. Rabbi Beryl Karasick, a Chabad Hasid, also claims to be Chief Rabbi of Kiev and designated as such by a Ukraianian government ministry. Even many Chabad followers maintain that Rabbi Bleich has greater credibility as chief rabbi.

3. The Chabad individual formerly depicted as a rabbi in Odessa is nt a qualified rabbi and has
returned to Israel.
4. Asociatesiya yevreiskikh organizatsiyakh I obshchin ukrainy (Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine), 6 Kursk St., 252049 kiev, telephone (044)276-7431 fax (044)272-7144.

5. Kievskoye obshchestvo yevreiskoi kulturoi (Kiev Society of Jewish Culture), Its president is Ilya Levitas
Address:252013 Kiev, 7 Nemanskaya St; telephones (044)295-6593, 295-0206, 296-3961; fax (044)228-7272. Because it is conservative in its outlook this organization has greater influence with the current Ukrainian government, which is led by Soviet-era apparatchiks.

6. Makor, a Hebrew word, means “source” in English. It is located at 10/1 Karl Marx St. 252001 Kiev; telephone (044)229-6141, fax (044)229-8069, electronic mail – makor@sovamsu.sovuas.com.

 
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