Betsy Gidwitx Reports

 

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.[9]  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, economic conditions in Dnipropetrovsk are somewhat less severe than in most other areas of 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.

 

Historically, 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, a past Prime Minister of Ukraine imprisoned under the former Yanukhovych regime, is a native of the city.

File:Dnipropetrovsk Panorama.jpg

Panoramic view of the city as seen from the tower of the National Mining University. Three stepped towers of the Menorah Center are visible at right. (The towers appear as beige in color.)  The city rises on both sides of the Dnipr River.  As is true in most Dnipr River cities, the more developed side is on the west bank (which appears in the foreground of the above photo.)

Photo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dnipropetrovsk_Panorama.jpg.  Retrieved July 19, 2013.

 

 

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.

 

More than 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, 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.  Symbolic of the role of Chabad in the city is the Menorah Center, a Chabad Jewish cultural center that opened in October 2012.  Designed to appear as seven-branch menorah (candelabrum associated with Jewish ritual), the Menorah Center comprises 538,000 square feet (approximately 50,000 square meters.  Although the complex has been referred to as a Jewish community center - the largest Jewish community center in the world (крупнейший в мире), according to Chabad - it is a unique structure, bearing little resemblance to Jewish community centers in North or South America.  It is, instead, an office complex, conference center, banquet hall, hotel, Jewish museum, and small shopping mall.  It hosts a senior welfare center and soon will be home to a medical clinic serving seniors and children.[10]  It has no dedicated sports facilities or premises intended for ongoing children's activities.  Parking space is very limited.  Con-struction costs, said to be more than $60 million, were covered entirely by Ihor Kolomoisky and Hennady Bogolubov.

 

 

The Menorah Center overshad-ows the red-roofed Golden Rose Choral Synagogue in a busy area of Dnipropetrovsk.

 

Photo: Chabad of Dnipropetrovsk.

 

Although the structure appears to have seven separate towers, it is a single L-shaped building with an 18-story center and three progressively smaller sections branching out on two sides from the center.  A long and wide ground-floor corridor extends through each 'wing' of the building, meeting where the two wings join.  Multiple sets of small elevators are located along the corridor.  Entries into small elevator vestibules, shops, the hotel, and other functional areas are separated by stone replicas of facades of former synagogues in the area.  Shops include an upscale kosher restaurant, a more modest kosher coffee shop, a small kosher grocery store, Judaica items, florist, travel agency, and bank branch.  A wide stairway leads to the Museum of Jewish Holocaust and History in Ukraine,[11] and a passageway connects the Center with the synagogue.  Another passageway leads directly to the conference space and banquet halls. 
Security is visible, but unobtrusive.

 

Entrance to the Menorah Center is gained most easily through street-side doors in each of the two end-towers, although doors in the end-tower at left are accessible only by ascending two flights of outdoor steps that would be difficult for mobility-impaired individuals to mount.  Vehicular access is available at the rear of the structure.

 

The Menorah Hotel is a four-star facility accommodating 80 guests.  Its elevators and door key system are programmed to be Shabbat-compliant.  Because the hotel is connected to the synagogue through the Menorah Center, some religiously observant individuals and families take advantage of Shabbat package rates.  A planned hostel in a different section of the Menorah Center failed to attract guests and has been converted into a 16-room two-star facility known as the 7-Days City Hotel, featuring accommodations available at modest prices.

 

The conference and banquet facilities include two connecting ballrooms that together seat 1,500 people.  A tiered theater with a professional sound system accommodates 320 individuals.  Smaller conference rooms and informal meeting spaces exist throughout the complex. 

 














Partial views of one of the banquet halls and the professional Sinai theater are seen above.

Photos: Chabad of Dnipropetrovsk.

 

Office and meeting space in the Menorah Center is available to both commercial and community tenants according to a two-tier rent system.  Community groups (such as the Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and the Hillel student group) pay a discounted rate for permanent offices as well as for occasional additional space that may be leased by the hour or day for special purposes, such as a conference or dinner.  Commercial tenants paying a market rate include lawyers, an information technology company, and various shops. 

 

According to Svetlana Yermakova, the professional manager of the Menorah Center, 90 percent of the complex was leased by March 2014 - and she anticipated that the remainder would be rented within the next several months.  Commercial tenants occupy 53 percent of the space, the Museum of the Jewish Holocaust and History occupies 16 percent, Jewish organizations that receive a community discount account for ten percent, and offices of the Menorah Center itself occupy two percent.[12]  Additional commercial tenants who will pay full rent are being sought.

 

In response to a question, Ms. Yermakova stated that the complex employs 80 personnel fulltime, not including hotel staff or security.  The security staff includes 36 individuals.  The facility is monitored by 600 video cameras, mounted at various points inside and outside the building.  The Menorah Center maintains excellent relations with all relevant police and external security forces, said Ms. Yermakova.  No security issues have arisen since the building opened, she stated.

 

Asked if she had been surprised by any experiences in the building, Ms. Yermakova said that heating costs during the 2013-2014 winter had been 20 to 30 percent lower than anticipated, a circumstance that she attributed to technology in the structure that automatically regulates heating according to existing temperatures in each section of the complex separately.

 

Educated as an attorney, Svetlana Yermakova previously managed a 300-room hotel in Kyiv and a conference center substantially larger than the Menorah complex.  She also had worked for Hennady Boholubov, who recommended her for the Menorah Center position.  Initially, she said, she did not understand the concept of a Jewish community center, but she is now a great admirer of Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki who brings the Jewish population together through the Menorah Center and is a "special man" and a leader in every sphere, both inside and outside the Jewish community.

 

Photo: the writer.

 

In response to a question, Ms. Yermakova stated that accounting is done separately for the hotels and for the remainder of the Menorah Center.  The Menorah Center, she continued, broke even in September 2013 and began to show a profit in October.  It continues to be profitable, although income doubtless would have been greater if the ongoing recession had not affected bookings of the conference center and banquet halls; organizations and individuals were understandably trying to reduce costs in this time of economic uncertainty and thus were limiting programs that used such facilities.

 

Evading a question about the breakeven occupancy rate at the main hotel, Ms. Yermakova said that the hotel was profitable before the current economic crisis when its monthly occupancy was 35 to 40 percent.  Following the Russian occupation of Crimea in February, occupancy dipped to between ten and 20 percent.  Advance reservations suggest that the April rate will be about 25 percent, she continued.  Because its room rates are less expensive, City Hotel occupancy was higher, 50 to 60 percent, she said.

 

As of midsummer of 2014, individuals associated with Chabad in Dnipropetrovsk were claiming a Menorah Center monthly profit of close to $40,000 (not including the two hotels).   The profit was to be returned to the local Chabad community to cover various expenses in education, welfare programs, and other areas.  At the same time, it was known that Menorah Center management was asked to trim some employee salaries, reduce maintenance costs, delay payments to vendors, and undertake other cost-cutting measures.  

 

 

Rabbi Shmuel and Mrs. Chana Kaminezki pose in a small well-stocked kosher market located on the ground floor near one of the entrances of the Menorah Center. The market includes kosher foodstuffs produced in Ukraine and imported from Israel.  In addition to the grocery store, the Menorah Center also includes a Judaica store, a florist, and other shops.

 

 

Photo: the writer.

 

 

 

To date, the Menorah Center has proved to be an important focal point for many Jews in Dnipropetrovsk.  Its clean and modern facilities accommodate a number of Jewish organizations as well as public and private events.  Further, its commercial and communal space attracts the larger population.  Nonetheless, doubts continue to be expressed about the financial viability of the enterprise,[13] and concern is voiced about the wisdom of building such a massive and conspicuous symbol of Jewish wealth in a country where antisemitism is rarely far from the surface.


[9] 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.

[10]   See below.

[11]   See pages 31-33.

[12]  The Menorah Center offices are to be moved to the small office building immediately behind the synagogue so that Menorah Center space is available to full-rent tenants.

[13]  Reports persist that Messrs. Boholubov and Kolomoisky have agreed to cover all deficits incurred during the first two years of Menorah Center operations, but they are said to have made no commitments beyond that time period.

 
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