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VISIT TO JEWISH COMMUNITIES IN UKRAINE AND MOSCOW AND

RELATED MEETINGS IN JERUSALEM

OCTOBER 1993

(continued)

 

 

Forty-one high school students from Dnipropetrovsk are currently participating in the Na’aleh high school-in-Israel program, an Israeli government endeavor that “competes with a similar Jewish Agency effort. Mr. Shor observed that the Na’aleh program is very expensive. In an earlier conversation, Rqabbi Kaminetzky indicated some misgivings about Na’aleh because it accepts and thus removes from the city some of the most capable and committed youngsters and rejects many of those who would derive greatest benefit from it.

Staff at the Center manage all interviewing and paperwork for those immigrating to Israel. According to Mr. Shor, the OVIR office in Dnipropetrovsk often attempts to prohibit young men from emigrating until after the completion of Ukrainian army service , but Rabbi Kaminetzky is usually successful in intervening with local authorities so that the olim can leave without fulfilling military terms.

In response to a question, Mr. Shor said he welcomed the forthcoming opening of a Jewish Agency office in Dnipropetrovsk. The two organizations share the same purpose, he said, as they should work together. Enough work exists in the region for both groups.

Jews in nearby cities (Zaporozhe, Krivoi Rog and Dneprodzezhinsk) use the Israel Cultural Center as a resource bureau. The Boston visitors met Jews from Krivoi Rog and Dneprodzezhinsk in the building.

Although the center appears to tolerate the nascent Jewish Community Council, some in the city perceive that the Center views the Council as inherently adversarial because the latter suggests that local Jewish communal life can be built in Ukraine.


16. A resident shallach of the Jewish Agency for Israel is scheduled to arrive in Dnipropetrovsk in November. In common with his counterpart form the Lishkat haKesher, the JAFI emissary will be responsible for a broad area including Dnipropetrovsk itself and such cities as Zaporozhe, Krivoi Rog and Dneprodzezhinsk. Rabbi Kaminetzky is apprehensive about the arrival of the JAFI representative, fearing that the competition between JAFI and the Lishka that is so evident in other cities will be repeated in Dnipropetrovsk to the detriment of local Jews. He hopes that the two organizations will “leave their politics in Israel” and “not make war among Jews here”.

17. Global Jewish Assistance and Relief Network (GJARN) was founded by Rabbi Elezer (Laizer) Avtson now its executive director, after the Chernobyl nuclear power station disaster in 1986. According to its official publicity, its mission is to “share goodness with mankind”. A relief agency, GJARN distributed humanitarian aid in the United States, Israel, the former Soviet Union and Hong Kong. Its major sources of support are businesses wishing to donate surplus goods (especially food, medicines and clothing) for tax relief purposes, the United States government for surplus food and for access to inexpensive otr free shipping programs; transportation companies donating space and charitable organizations and individuals wishing to contribute cash or goods.

Because it acquires United States government commodities and also works with independent groups of varying orientations, many GJARN programs are operated on a non-sectarian basis. However, it does expend special efforts to reach Jews in need.

The head office of GJARN is in the Chabad area of Brooklyn. Its chief office in the Soviet successor states in Moscow; field offices are located in St. Petersburg, Riga, Bishkek and in the Ukrainian cities of Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkov. 25


The GJARN regional director in Dnipropetrovsk is a local person, Mikhail Samoilovich Goldenberg. The Dnipropetrovsk office also employs a translator, two drivers, computer programmer and secretary, and has shared the services of an educational director with another organization, the Union of Chernobyl Victims. Stephanie Rubin, a Russian-speaking woman from Chicago, was its local director for six months, but she returned to the United States in mid-October (according to plan) and has not yet been replaced.

GJARN operates welfare and educational programs in Dnipropetrovsk. Based on a computerized and carefully updated roster of 700 isolated pensioners., 107 of the most deprived seniors receive weekly deliveries of milk and bread. (Because the original list of elderly was derived from synagogue records, the overwhelmingly majority of individuals in this program are Jewish). The circumstances of approximately 50 percent of these people are deemed “dire”. When possible GJARN supplements the milk and bread deliveries with other foods, such as rice or apples.

GJARN coordinates its program with the welfare efforts of the Jewish Community
Council. The vehicles used to delivery bread and milk are also available to transport the elderly to physicians and hospitals (although some seniors require socially-equipped conveyances that are not available).

As we left Dnipropetrovsk, GJARN was receiving 980 tons of United States government surplus butter, which was to be distributed throughout the region to specifics group of people, such as needy elderly, World War II veterans, labor camp survivors, Afghan orphans, Chernobyl victims and others. Rabbi Avtson had secured cold storage facilities and both he and the staff and government authorities implementing the butter distribution seemed to have a keen sense of responsibility for its security and proper delivery.

The major component of the GJARN educational program to date has been the sponsorship and organization (in cooperation with the Union of Chernobyl Victims, the Red Cross and the United States Peace Corps were among those making presentations; topics included fundraising, accounting, relevant computer technology, selection and training of volunteers, publicity and lobbying. Delegates from approximately thirty groups in the region, including government bodies, attended the meetings. Participants found the experience so valuable that they have requested a series of follow-up seminars, each devoted to a single topic in depth.

Rabbi Avtson (who was no in Dnipropetrovsk during our visit) has been very helpful to those Bostonians involved with the exchange with Dnipropetrovsk. He has carried art projects for children of the two communities across the ocean and has provided space in GJARN containers for shipments of bulk items from Boston to Dnipropetrovsk. However, representatives of at least one more-established welfare organization have questioned the level of control that Rabbi Avtson maintains over his farflung operations, stating that some pieces are missing” in supervision of GJARN projects. Apprehensive about GJRN management, the more established organization is reluctant to work with Rabbi Avtson.

18. The Boston group met with Valentina Vasliyevna Talyan, the deputy mayor of Dnipropetrovsk, on October 11.26 Although officially the deputy mayor, Ms. Talyan is considered the effective mayor by many because the elected mayor is more of a figurehead than an active official.

Ms. Talyan opened her remarks by commending the local Jewish community and Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzky. She stated that no ethnic community in the city is more active than the Jewish community and that no discreet group has contributed more to civic well-being than the Jewish community. She is pleased that the Jews are as active as Jews , recalling the recent past when Jews were so fearful of anti-Semitism that many concealed their ethnic identity. She observed that the ongoing economic crisis in the area would be even more difficult if the population did not have the freedom to speak and congregate as they now do. Ms. Talyan cited the development of Jewish culture, the establishment of the Jewish day school and the publication of a Jewish newspaper as illustrations of the new, more democratic atmosphere.

Ms. Talyan remarked that many who had previously perceived Jews in a negative manner regarded them very positively. Jewish civic activity and the fine work Rabbi Kaminetzky have made a very favorable impression throughout the city. She noted that Rabbi Kaminetzky and his wife Chana have learned Russian very quickly after their arrival in contrast to a German pastor who had arrived in Dnipropetrovsk at almost the same time and still speaks only German.

Ms. Talyan also spoke very approvingly about the GJARN seminar on voluntary organizations. She is grateful for the opportunity that the conference had provided to her and others to learn about concepts that were entirely new to them, such as volunteering. Under the Soviet regime, it was inappropriate to speak about quality of life issues. Further, such presentations by outsiders were effective in dispelling the earlier image of foreigners as enemies, the philanthropic activities of international organizations in Dnipropetrovsk demonstrates that foreigners could be humanitarian and that people educated under the Soviet system could learn from them.

Although she did not raise specific questions about a potential relationship between the Jewish communities of Dnipropetrovsk and Boston, Ms. Talyan did say she would favor a relationship between the municipalities as well. Initial steps are under way in implementing a sister city relationship between Dnipropetrovsk and Herziya, Israel.

Turning to health issues, Ms. Talyan expressed her appreciation for the medical supplies that Bostonians have brought to Dnipropetrovsk and said that the city would be grateful for any further supply of medicines. Ms. Talyan said that the Disintegration of the Soviet union has disrupted the flow of pharmaceutical supplies to the city. A major portion of all medicines used in Dnipropetrovsk had been manufactured in one large factory in Roston-on-Don, some 600 kilometers
to the southeast in Russia. Now that an international border exists between Dnipropetrovsk and Rostov, it is impossible to obtain pharmaceutical goods from its source. “Rostov-on-Don might as well be in New York.27



21. Rabbi Autson was a yeshiva classmate of both rabbi shmuel Kaminetzky of Dnipropetrovsk and Rabbi Moshe Moshkowitz of Kharkov. Brooklyn address: 730 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11213; telephone (718)774-6497, fax (718)774-6891. Dnipropetrovsk contacts – telephone (0562) 443 710, 450 506, 451 265; electronic mail - gjarndniepr@gluk.apc.org.

26. Ger official title is Vice-Chairman of the Executive committee of the Dnipropetrovsk Council (soviet) of People’s Deputies. Her office is at 75 Karl Marx Prospekt, 320011 Dnipropetrovsk; telephone (0562)455-573, fax (0562)450-393 or 453-278.

27. We did not ask Ms. Talyan to define the primary problems() in importing Rosto-manufactured medicines, eg., the imposition of heavy custom duties on imported pharmaceutical goods or increased shipping coasts. We also did not inquire about any efforts of city health authorities to secure medicines from other sources.




 

 
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