Betsy Gidwitx Reports

 

34.  The sister-city relationship between the Boston and Dnipropetrovsk Jewish communities, various details of which are noted elsewhere in this section, was initiated in 1992[78] and today is the most comprehensive of any “kehilla” project connecting North American and post-Soviet Jewish population centers.  It involves both Jewish and non-sectarian entities in each city, although most of the latter appear to have been promoted by Boston-area Jews. The relationship also includes some projects involving Haifa, Boston’s partner city in Israel.

 

Having long operated as a program of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, a constituent agency of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston,[79] direction of the Boston kehilla project was transferred to the Planning and Allocations department of CJP itself during the last year. The relationship is enabled by a number of Jewish organizations in the Boston area, most of which are associated in some way with CJP.   These include agencies related to Jewish education, children's and elder care, and employment services. As noted earlier, Action for Post-Soviet Jewry, an independent organization, created and manages the Adopt-a-Bubbe program. Additionally, various Boston physicians and medical institutions have played important roles in enhancing women's health programs and pediatric care in Dnipropetrovsk and are major advisors in the development of the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish Medical Center.

 

Although some refer to the relationship as a partnership, almost all initiatives and funding originate in Boston.  Unlike several other Jewish community sister-city pairings, the Boston-Dnipropetrovsk connection does not include collaborative projects with the Joint Distribution Committee or the Jewish Agency for Israel.

 

Yan Sidelkovsky, who manages the project in Dnipropetrovsk, stated that the major 2015 focus of the relationship is finding appropriate premises for a downtown Jewish Medical Center.  Sites considered previously, such as the basement of the Menorah Center or one or more floors in the old community center building, are too small.  A new site requires expert planning, acquisition of appropriate fixtures and furnishings, and additional staffing.  Professional consultants in the United States are assisting the kehilla committee in resolving these issues.  In the meantime, three more local physicians will go to the United States for advanced training in their specialties.[80]

 

Combined Jewish Philanthropies dispatched additional aid to the community during the peak of the crisis with internally displaced people, noted Mr. Sidelkovsky.  A significant portion of the assistance was directed to Beit Baruch, which was accommodating displaced Jews from the Donetsk and Luhansk areas in addition to its regular residents; other funds were earmarked for psychological help to Jewish IDP's and to the hesed staff who were overwhelmed by the additional caseload.  Some aid also was applied to programs for internally displaced Jewish children.

 

Mr. Sidelkovsky expressed some unease about the transfer of responsibility in Boston for the kehilla project from the JCRC to the planning department of CJP.  He also noted the departure of some professional staff from the Boston side of the program, including a Russian-speaking coordinator.

 

 

General Civil Assistance Fund

 

 

35.  Dopomoga, which is translated variously as civil defense fund or civil assistance fund, is one of a number of independent non-government organizations (NGO's) that have arisen in the wake of the Maidan uprising and Russian-backed separatist insurgency in 2014.   Based in Dnipropetrovsk, Dopomoga is associated with the larger Ukraine National Defense Foundation, also an NGO.

 

Vladislav Makarov, executive director of Dopomoga, said that about 50 individuals are involved in the organization.  Fifteen are paid staff and the remainder are volunteers.  The organization raises funds and operates programs on behalf of internally displaced persons, provides non-lethal assistance to the Ukrainian armed forces, and, to a lesser extent, is concerned with environmental protection.  Overall, its goal is to advance civil society in Ukraine. 

 

Regarding internally displaced persons, Mr. Makarov and his associates noted that no national government entity in Ukraine is dealing with IDP's.  The government, they said, just hopes that the problem will go away.  Different ministries give different estimates of the IDP population; local authorities have their own estimates, as do independent groups.  The more competent IDP's never contact any organization; they proceed independently in Dnipropetrovsk or elsewhere.  They find housing and employ-ment on their own.  Elderly individuals and weak families and individuals come to Dopomoga or other groups.  Mr. Makarov stated that about 65,000 IDP's and other people with problems of one sort or another live in rent-free social or communal housing throughout the region.

 

Dopomoga established an IDP reception and registration center in Dnipropetrovsk that provides some very basic material assistance, help with housing, and access to psychological care.  It voluntarily submits reports to appropriate government agencies.  It has established credibility as a responsible organization and receives some funding from an international organization dealing with underprivileged children, Swedish and American assistance groups, and an agency of the United Nations.

 

Pavlo Khazan, Chairman of the Dopomoga board, stated that Dopomoga was active in two major areas concerning non-lethal military assistance. The first was provision of radio-technical and engineering support.  A major objective was protection of communications; Russians and pro-Russian separatists were able to intercept many messages between Ukrainian military units.  Although Dopomoga was able to obtain some technology that could be very useful, the military officials said, the technology is not used to maximum effect because many Ukrainian army officers are unfamiliar with basic electronics and lack computer skills.  Sometimes these officers are reluctant to entrust the technology to younger officers whose IT skills are more advanced.

 

In tactical medicine. Dopomoga is active in training medics and obtaining medical field kits.  Friends in other countries have been helpful in these efforts, Mr. Khazan said.  Dnipropetrovsk is close to the combat area, Mr. Khazan noted, so Dopomoga work in military support is broadly supported.  He added that a major military hospital is located in the area and that bodies of all Ukrainian military personnel killed in battle were brought to a morgue in the city.  Foreign military attachés stationed in Ukraine often visit Dnipropetrovsk as it is considered a "gateway" to the combat region.

 

Among the responsibilities of Oleksiy Angurets, another official of the organization, is environmental protection.  In general, said Mr. Angurets, Ukrainians are not as sensitive to environmental damage as are many individuals in the West.  Military actions cause great destruction to fields, woodlands, and other habitats.  Military units seem to regard environmental concerns as a distraction.

 

In response to a question, Mr. Makarov said that the Ukrainian government doesn't bother them in their work.  Equally, it doesn't help Dopomoga either.

 

 

Kharkiv

 

 

Founded in 1653 at the confluence of the Udy, Lopan, and Kharkiv rivers, Kharkiv today

is a city of 1.43 million people, the second largest municipality in Ukraine.  Capital of Ukraine from 1921 to 1934, it is now a fading center of industry, culture, and higher education. Its industrial core is based on armaments and complex machinery, some of which has been sold in controversial arms deals to rogue states.  Notwithstanding the relative sophistication of a portion of its economic base, however, the larger economy of Kharkiv and the surrounding area is floundering, a result of general Ukrainian economic conditions, poor governance, and a failure of local officials to embrace private business initiatives.  Unemployment is high, and the general mood of Kharkiv residents appeared both sour and nervous during the writer's most recent visits in 2014 and 2015.

 

Evidence of support for Ukrainian sovereignty was visible at a number of locations in central Kharkiv.  Directly above is a booth in a major Kharkiv square inviting passersby to contribute to the Ukrainian defense effort.  Both cash and material items for soldiers are being solicited.  Note the sandbagged guard post with flag to the right of the collection point.  A similar booth collecting money and materiel for a specific rightwing military unit was located several blocks away.

 

Above left, fabric in the national colors of Ukraine had been draped around the shoulders of Taras Shevchenko, honored here in a well-known monument in another square.  Shevchenko was a 19th century Ukrainian poet, writer, painter, and political figure who promoted Ukrainian independence from Russia.  Below left, banners resembling Ukrainian flags have been installed over a Kharkiv street. 

Photos: the writer.

 

 

The nervousness derives from its location approximately 30 miles (48 km.) from the Russian border.  The city is the administrative center of Kharkiv oblast, which shares borders with Russia on its north and with the troubled eastern oblasts of Luhansk and Donetsk on its east and south.  (It also borders on Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava, and Sumy oblasts.)  "Visitors" from Russia in the guise of tourists or students appear in the city from time to time; both visitors and local Russian sympathizers, some of whom are supported by Russia, attempt to intimidate pro-Ukrainians, provoke incidents, and organize pro-Russian demonstrations.

 

In common with Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv has absorbed a large number of internally displaced people from the Donetsk and Luhansk areas.  Perhaps 200,000 IDPs were in the city at the peak of the crisis, but some had moved on by April.  One estimate at the time of the writer's visit was that between 100,000 and 140,000 remained in the city and its environs.  Their need for housing, employment, and welfare assistance was exacting a severe toll on a municipality already in distress.

 

Among the casualties of the declining economy are the once-robust universities, scientific centers, and medical facilities that characterized Kharkiv in better days.  Starved of financial resources, these institutions are rapidly losing their most nimble professionals to more vigorous establishments abroad.  At the same time, institutions eager to earn hard currency are recruiting foreign students who pay higher tuition fees; many of these newcomers are poorly qualified individuals from developing countries (including former Soviet states in Central Asia), whose lack of preparedness propels standards even lower.

 

 

36.  The Jewish population of Kharkiv probably is about 21,000 according to the Israeli Law of Return, although the writer has heard estimates that are significantly higher.  Notwithstanding the reality that many younger Jews are leaving the city, Jews remain prominent in almost every sphere of Kharkiv life, including government, business and industry, science and technology, education, and culture; most Jews openly identify as Jews, but, in common with other post-Soviet cities, participation in Jewish activity is low.

 

 

Jewish Education and Culture

 

 

37.  The writer was unable to visit the larger of the two Jewish day schools in Kharkiv, School #170, a Chabad institution, because a government commission was conducting a routine inspection of the school at the time that the writer was in the city.  According to Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz, Chief Rabbi of Kharkiv, enrollment was stable at approximately 300 pupils, including 15 internally displaced youngsters from Donetsk and Luhansk.

 

 

38.  The writer also was unable to meet with Rabbi Levi Raices, director of the local Chabad yeshiva for boys in grades five through 11.

 

39.  A machon for girls in grades five through 11 enrolls 30 pupils, said its director, Miriam Yakimenko.  The number is about 25 percent lower than that of 2012-2013, and Ms. Yakimenko expects a further decline as more and more families are leaving for Israel.  At the request of families who expect to emigrate to Israel, Ms. Yakimenko said, the machon has strengthened its Hebrew-language instructional program.  The machon meets in classrooms located in the synagogue; however, because the synagogue facility lacks science laboratories and teachers qualified to teach certain secular classes, girls go to School #170 several times each week for instruction in science, mathematics, and information technology.

 

In addition to secular studies and Hebrew, girls in the machon also are instructed in Judaism.  The machon promotes good values and attempts to instill in its students a generous spirit.  Throughout their machon experience, the girls engage in various social assistance projects, such as visiting elderly Jews who are lonely and helping out in the lower school.  Older girls in the machon also lead a Sunday school that enrolls about 25 children between the ages of three and 12, said Ms. Yakimenko.  The Sunday school program includes both formal Jewish education and various recreational activities, she stated.

 

In response to a question about post-high school education, Ms. Yakimento said that the machon recommends that its graduates enroll in Chabad post-secondary colleges for women, such as Beit Chana in Dnipropetrovsk or other Chabad women's institutions in Odesa, Zhytomyr, or Moscow.  However, she observed, the parents (particularly single mothers) of some girls do not want their daughters to leave Kharkiv, so these girls enroll in local colleges.[81]

 

 

Miriam Yakimenko, left, directs the Kharkiv Chabad machon, a day school for girls in grades five through 12.

 

Photo: the writer.

 

 

40. Pearl Kolnak, who focuses on Jewish education for young adults, directs the stipend-based STARS (Student Torah Alliance for Russian Speakers) program in Kharkiv. Twelve young women, all of them attending local universities/institutes or already in the workplace, participate in the regular STARS experience, said Ms. Kolnak; attendance at a three-hour class each Sunday is required.  Another five young women are enrolled in STARS Intensive, which calls for eight hours of Jewish studies each week, teaching in the Chabad Sunday school and helping with synagogue activities, working as counselors in the Chabad summer camp, and observance of Shabbat.  Chabad has rented an apartment close to the synagogue so that the young women can observe Shabbat in accordance with halakha (Jewish law).  Participants in Stars Intensive receive not only a stipend, but payment of university/institute tuition as well.


[78] The writer, who was living and working in Cambridge at the time, was one of two individuals who initiated the project under the auspices of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston.  The other founder, Dr. Judith Wolf, remains active in the partnership; her family has provided leadership and resources for the special needs program at Beit Chana.

[79]  Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston is the Jewish federation in Boston

[80]   See page 10 for a photo of Mr. Sidelkovsky.  See also pages 11-12 for comments about the Jewish Medical Center from Chief Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki and executive director of the Chabad Jewish community, Zelig Brez, respectively.  The existing Jewish Medical Center itself is described on pages 10-11.

[81]The Kharkiv Chabad community previously maintained its own post-secondary program for girls in which young women studied part-time in local colleges and part-time in a Chabad curriculum, but this program (Akademia) was cancelled several years ago due to financial difficulties.

 

 
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