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VISIT TO JEWISH COMMUNITIES IN UKRAINE AND MOSCOW AND

RELATED MEETINGS IN JERUSALEM

OCTOBER 1993

(continued)

 

 

In response to a question, Ms. Talyan said hat the city is able to provide vaccinations against polio and diphtheria for its children, although some youngsters are too weak to inoculate and booster shots are not readily available. In general, medicines are in short supply and very expensive, especially for people who are not actually hospitalized. The high cost of medicine is a particularly severe problems for pensioners.

(Another source familiar with local health conditions told the Boston delegation that approximately 30 percent of all children in Dnipropetrovsk are chronically ill, mainly as a result of a severe environmental degradation. City authorities recognize the gravity of the situation but lack the resources to address the various problems).

The meeting proceeded in a warm and friendly atmosphere. Of the three occasions on which Betsy Gidwitz has met with Ms. Talyan (the others occurring in May 1992 and January 1993) this conference was the most cordial and gracious.

19. Rabbi Kaminetzky arranged for Judy Patkin, Sheila Galland, Martha Moore and Barbara Anatolev to visit the local office of the Ukrainian Security Service (referred to in Ukrainian by its initials, SBU) the successor to the KGB.28 In common with their endeavors in many other cities, Post-Soviet security officials in Dnipropetrovsk are attempting to creating a new image of civility and cooperation.

The Dnipropetrovsk SBU is located in a large complex of buildings around a central courtyard. The Boston delegation was shown a basement area of prison cells in one of the older structures; no longer used to hold prisoners, these cells currently serves as office and storage space. Of particular interest was cell #12 in which Chabad Rabbi Shneerson’s father had been imprisoned for many years.29

Later discussion with SBU officials centered on their current efforts to open the archives concerning Jewish events in the area from the late 19th century to the World War II era, an undertaking strongly encouraged by Rabbi Kaminetzky. An officer apologized to the Boston volunteers for the numerous KGB attacks against local Jews, mentioning specifically a number of false charges and forced confessions. Files on the Stalinist terror of the 1930’s and on the Holocaust were displayed and discussed.

Rabbi Kaminetzky is working with the SBU to organize and exhibition of archival documents. Eager to improve the image abroad, SBU officials said that they would like to send such a presentation to the United States.

Several local SBU officials have visited Israel to discuss their findings with historians there. These journeys will lead to publication of at least one book in Israel based on KGB archival material related to Dnipropetrovsk Jewry.30
While based in Dnipropetrovsk, the Boston group traveled to three cities – Zaporozhe, Krivoi, Rog and Dniprodzerzhinsk – all located within a 100-mile radius of Dnipropetrovsk. In common with Dnipropetrovsk, the economy of these cities is rooted in heavy industry, a circumstance deriving from the now nearly depleted regional deposits of iron ore and coal that have long driven life in eastern Ukraine.

All the international Jewish organizations active in the area (the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Lishkat haKasher, Chabad) serve the Jewish populations of these cities from a Dnipropetrovsk base.

 

 

 

Zaporozhe

 

20. Zaporozhe (Ukrainian Zaporizhzhya, known until 1921 as Alexandrovsk) I located on the left bank of the Dnepr River approximately fifty miles south of Dnipropetrovsk. Today, the administrative center of Zaporozhe oblast, the city was established in the late sixteenth century by bands of Cossacks known as Zaporozhe Cossacks. Extensive deposits of coal (lignite) as well as electricity generated by a hydroelectric station on the Dnepr River have supported development of an economy focused on metallurgy, chemicals and engineering (including automobiles). Agriculture production (especially winter wheat, corn and potatoes) in the oblast sustains a significant food processing industry.

The population of Zaporozhe (city) is estimated at 884,000 to 900,000 (in comparison with 1.2 and 1.3 million in Dnipropetrovsk)31 The Jewish Agency for Israel estimates the Jewish population at 7,000; local Jewish leaders believe 14,000 Jew reside in the city. The Jewish population of Zaporozhe before World War II was probably about 40,000.

21. The central Jewish organization in Zaporozhe is the Zaporozhe Oblast Jewish Council, which has an office on the ground floor of an apartment building in the center of the city. The president of the council is Boris Lvovich Esterkin; professionally, Mr. Esterkin is advertising director of a local business publication, s (Our City )32

Mr. Esterkin told the Boston group that the primary goal of the Jewish Council is popular Jewish education. It sponsors an evening Hebrew ulpan that attracts about 150 adults (mainly parents of children in the community day school) holiday commemorations; committees that are concerned with social welfare activity was the distribiution of 150 JDC humanitarian aid packages to needy Jews last spring.

The community has no synagogue but Rabbi Kanminetzky visits regularly and assists with religious rituals, such as a community seder. Mr. Esterkin said that local jews derive great pleasure from socializing with each other at community events. He also observed that the Council enjoys extensive and productive contacts with municipal and oblast officials.

22. Mr. Esterkin and others noted that the central focus of Zaporozhe Jewish life is the community day school, the Zaporozhe Municipal Jewish National School-Gymnasia Alef.33 The school enrolls 250 children in grades 1 to 11 and employs twenty-six teachers. In its second year of operation, the school has outgrown its current premises and is seeking additional space for expansion. The principal is Mark Yetimovich Kaminsky.34

The school operates from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM> It offers a full secular program as well as classes in Hebrew, Yiddish, Jewish tradition, Jewish history, Jewish culture, Israel history and geography. As is the practice elsewhere in Ukraine, the municipality provides the school building and utilities, pays the salaries of teachers instructing secular subjects and supplies textbooks for secular studies. The Lishkat heKesher is the major sponsor of the Jewish curriculum. Teachers from the school have attended seminars in Jewish studies organized by the Lishka and the Jewish Agency and one instructor was preparing to go to Israel to participate in a Melton course for teachers of Hebrew.

Mr. Kaminsky reported that the school suffered from a severe storage of textbooks in Jewish subjects. The school library was located in the pricipal’s office because no other space was available. The Joint Distribution Committee has promised to provide audio-visual equipment, but nothing has been received yet.

The school sponsors a student council tat collects tzedakah from pupils then decides how to distribute it. The council has allocated money to needy pensioners in the city, to pupils who cannot afford to participate in school excursions (e.g. theater trips) and to the school itself.

The Jewish community regards the school as a Jewish educational center, an institution serving the entire community. Hebrew classes for adults are held in the school during evening hours. A pre-school for children between the ages of three to six meets in the same facilities, as does a Sunday school for about forty-five youngsters. The Sunday school serves those children who live too far away to attend daily or who attend specialized public schools, such as schools for musically-gifted youngsters. Community holiday celebrations are also hel in the school, although some large functions are accommodated in rented halls.

Mr. Kaminsky, Mr. Esterkin and others take great pride in the day school. They repeatedly cited the high professional skills of its teachers, its promotion of Jewish culture and its central role in the Jewish community.

 


28. Because of a prior commitment in another city, Betsy Gidwitz had departed from Dnipropetrovsk before the meeting with the SBU.

29. The long Chabad association with Dnipropetrovsk (Yakaterinoslav) was a primary factor in the decision of the Chabad movement to assign Rabbi Kaminetzky to that city so quickly after it became possible to do so.

30. The officer in charge wore a small lapel pin in the form of a lion in Judah. In response to a question, he said that the pin was given to him in Israel. He then gave each of the visitors a pin commemorating the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the KGB.

31. Estimates of general populations are provided by the Harvard University Ukrainian Research Institute, the University of London School of Slavonic & East European Studies and local sources in Ukraine.

32. Mr. Esterkin’s business telephone number is (0612)624-531; his home telephone number is (0612)642-310.

33. The school is located at 330065 Zaporozhe, 14 Mayakovsky St.; the achool telephone number is (0612)340-533.

34. Mr. Kaminsky’s home address is 330068 Zaporozhe, 61 Delovsky St., apt.34. His home telephone number is (0612)648-095 and his fax number is (0612)624-221.

 

 

 
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