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Dnipropetrovsk

 

Founded in 1778 on the banks of the Dnipr River, Dnipropetrovsk was known until 1926 as Ekaterinoslav, in honor of Catherine II (Catherine the Great) whose troops conquered the territory. As the Soviet Union consolidated its power in the 1920’s, place names associated with the tsarist period were changed to reflect Communist control.[11]  Currently the third largest city in Ukraine, following Kyiv and Kharkiv, the population of Dnipropetrovsk is slightly over one million. It was a closed city until mid-1990 due to its extensive military industry, particularly Yuzhmash, a producer of intercontinental ballistic missiles, booster rockets, and related products.

 

Dnipropetrovsk continues to be a center of heavy industry, hosting factories producing cast iron, rolled metal, pipes, mining and agricultural machinery, large appliances, and transportation equipment.  Other prominent industries in the city include food processing and apparel manufacture, the latter for European firms.  Notwithstanding the current economic crisis that affects the local economy, just as it affects the remainder of the country, Dnipropetrovsk remains a relatively wealthy city in Ukraine.  The oblast  government is considered among the most enlightened and capable in the country; private enterprise is encouraged and supported, thus diversifying the economy and providing some hedge in conditions of economic turbulence.

 

Oleksandr Vilkul was appointed governor of Dnipropetrovsk oblast in 2010.  He enjoys a reputation of exceptional competence in a country in which too few officials are known for their skills and tolerance.

 

Photo:http://most-dnepr.info/news/economics_eng/41951.htm. Retrieved August 24, 2012.

 

 

Hstoricially, the city has been an important source of leadership for the former Soviet Union and for post-Soviet Ukraine. Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Valery Pustovoitenko, and former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma all spent significant portions of their careers in important leadership positions in the city.  Yulia Tymoshenko, the immediate past Prime Minister of Ukraine now imprisoned by the current President of Ukraine, is a native of Dnipropetrovsk.

 

Jews have lived in the region of Ekaterinoslav, part of the old Pale of Settlement, since the late eighteenth century. By 1897, the Jewish population of Ekaterinoslav had reached 41,240, more than one-third of the population of the entire city at that time.  Pogroms occurred in 1881, 1882, 1905, and 1918; the 1905 attacks were the most devastating, killing 97 and wounding more than 100 people. Prior to the consolidation of Soviet authority in the 1920’s, the Jewish community was highly organized, maintaining a diverse network of Jewish religious, educational, and cultural institutions.   It was an important center of both Zionism and the Chabad movement. A small Karaite community had its own prayer house.

 

Twenty years after the demise of the Soviet Union, Dnipropetrovsk is once again an important center of both Zionism and the Chabad movement. The State of Israel enjoys a robust image in the city, reflecting substantial emigration from Dnipropetrovsk to Israel, continuing bonds between local Jews and their family members and friends in Israel, the presence of many Israelis as teachers and other community professionals, a stream of capable shlichim (emissaries) of Israeli organizations -  the Jewish Agency, the Joint Distribution Committee,  and Nativ (formerly Lishkat Hakesher) - and the Zionist stance of Chief Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki. Regularly scheduled commercial air service connects Dnipropetrovsk and Ben Gurion airport in Israel. Estimates of the current Jewish population of Dnipropetrovsk range from 25,000 to 40,000; it is the second largest Jewish population center in Ukraine, surpassed only by Kyiv.

 

Dnipropetrovsk is the center of the Chabad movement in Ukraine. Honoring the historic presence of Chabad in the city that continued into the 1930’s, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson appointed Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki to the post of Chief Rabbi of Dnipropetrovsk in 1990. Rabbi Kaminezki is widely recognized as the most effective large-city community rabbi in all of the post-Soviet successor states.

 

 

1.   As has been the case for several years, the leading topic of discussion among the Jewishly-active population in the city is the 44,000 square-meter Menorah Center, now nearing completion after several construction delays.  Intended to be the largest Jewish community center in the world, the structure resembles a seven-branch menorah and looms over the Golden Rose Choral Synagogue.  The ground floor and several other sections of the building are scheduled to open for the Jewish holidays in 2012, but the remainder of the building requires significant additional interior work.

 

The Golden Rose Choral Synagogue is dwarfed by the new Menorah Center rising behind and to the side of it.  Although the Menorah Center appears to consist of seven separate towers, it is a single L-shaped struc-ture with a tall center section and three stepped sections on each side.

 

Photo:ЕВРЕЇ  ДНІПРОПЕТРОВЩИН: історіа та сучасністью.(Дніпропетровськ: Арт-Прес, 2011), 109 .

 

 

The major entrance to the Menorah Center will be at the small tower immediately to the right of the synagogue (as seen from the street).  A long and broad corridor extending from the entrance through the remaining towers will be a Jewish mall, its walls faced with replicas of facades of old synagogues in the region.  Interspersed among the synagogue facades will be entrances into a kosher supermarket, a Jewish book and artifacts store, a subsidized pharmacy, a business center, a bank branch, a notary, a travel agency, a kosher restaurant and a café, a banquet/wedding hall, a 350-seat conference/concert hall, a small hotel, a hostel for student groups, lateral expansion of the existing synagogue prayer hall, and a children’s synagogue.

 

The photographs at left show two of the replicated old syna-gogue facades that line the ground-level floor of the Menorah Center.  The photos were taken in May 2012 while the Center was still under con-struction.

 

 

Photos: the writer.

 

 

 

The main corridor also will host the entrance to a Museum of Jewish History and Culture in Ukraine, the only institution of its kind in the country.[12]  The upper floors of the Menorah Center will include a hotel of about 90 rooms, an extended-stay apartment hotel for individuals coming to the city for a week or more, and a hostel with approximately 100 beds in rooms for four to six people.  The hostel will permit the holding of Shabbatons and the accommodation of visiting youth delegations at a reason-able cost.

 

The architectural drawing at left shows an entrance staircase from the mall to the Jewish history museum.  (The building also includes multiple elevators.)

 

 

In an effort to establish and maintain the Menorah Center and adjacent synagogue as the center of Jewish life in the city, Rabbi Kaminezki has invited other major Jewish organizations to base their operations in the new facility.  Thus, the Center will host the Jewish Agency, Hillel student organization, JDC hesed and community center,[13] and certain other Jewish organizations.

 

The Menorah Center also will include program space for a limited array of children’s activities, meeting rooms of different sizes, and Chabad community offices.  It will not, however, contain any sports facilities other than a privately-run fitness center. 

 

Both construction and furnishing of the Menorah Center is being financed entirely by Hennadiy Boholubov and Ihor Kolomoisky, principals of PrivatBank.[14]   The Chabad community hopes to generate Menorah operating funds by renting office space in the Center to various organizations and businesses, a common strategy for managers of Jewish community facilities throughout the post-Soviet states.  Some of the businesses, such as the ground floor kosher restaurants and various shops, will be geared toward visitors to the Center; however, management of the Center also is seeking unrelated commercial firms that find the Center convenient for their office needs.  Hotel guests will be charged market rates for their accommodations, and use of all meeting and conference rooms will require fees.  A small underground parking garage may provide another revenue stream.  Notwithstanding these income-generating plans, several observers expressed concern that the Center would be able to cover its annual operating expenses, which one experienced property manager estimated at $3 million annually.

 

Hennady Boholubov (top) and Ihor Kolomoisky (bottom) are among the five wealthiest individuals in Ukraine, each with a net worth of several billion dollars.

 

Photos: Boholubov - http://www.torahcafe.com/scholar/mr-gennady-bogolyubov_0000000461.html;

Kolomoisky - http://www.ukrainianguide.com/5-wealthiest-ukrainian-oligarchs/.  Both retrieved August 28, 2012.



[11] Grigoriy Ivanovich Petrovsky (1878-1958) was a prominent local pre-revolutionary political agitator, exile, and subsequent political figure in the city. His family name was combined with that of the Dnipr River to produce the current city name of Dnipropetrovsk.

[12] The projected museum is the only comprehensive Jewish museum anywhere in the post-Soviet states or eastern Europe.  See the author’s April 2010 in Ukraine, p. 8, for further information about the museum.

[13] Although JDC will locate its major activity centers in the Menorah building, its offices will remain in another structure.

[14] Mr. Boholubov also is lay President of the Chabad Philanthropic Fund of the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish Community (Благотворительный фонд Днепропетровского еврейского общины), which supports Chabad interests in the city, and Mr. Kolomoisky is lay President of Всеукраинский Еврейский Конгресс (lit. translation, All-Ukraine Jewish Congress, or English acronym VEK, also known in English as United Jewish Community of Ukraine).  Both former residents of Dnipropetrovsk, Mr. Boholubov now spends most of his time in London and Mr. Kolomoisky lives in Geneva.

 
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