Betsy Gidwitx Reports

 

Welfare

 

 

52.  Anatoly Schvelv, director of Hesed Mikhail, stated that Hesed Mikhail currently assists 3,000 elderly clients, approximately 900 of whom are eligible for Claims Conference funding.  Echoing officials in other heseds, Mr. Schvelv said that the number of Holocaust survivors is diminishing from year to year, thus the number receiving Claims Conference assistance also is diminishing.  In addition to receiving funds from the Joint Distribution Committee and the Claims Conference, the hesed also is a beneficiary of World Jewish Relief, a British organization that is similar to JDC.  Occasionally, Mr. Schvelv said, Hesed Mikhail also receives grants from other organizations.

 

At one time, the hesed had about 100 internally displaced elderly Jews on its roster in addition to local people.  However, that number has declined as some people have returned to Donetsk or Luhansk areas and others have moved elsewhere.  The hesed provides assistance to the 28 Jewish IDP's in the Chabad dormitory, Mr. Schvelv said.

 

In response to a question about the general mood (настроение) among hesed clients, Mr. Schvelv said that many were very tense.  They are afraid that the war in the east will come to Zaporizhzhya; the uncertainty about what will happen next is very draining.

 

 

53.  Rabbi Nochum Ehrentreu, the Chief Rabbi of Zaporizhzhia, assists able-bodied, employment-capable Jewish IDP families find apartments in the city.  Additionally, he has made the dormitory of School #59 available to Jewish IDP's who need assistance.  The dormitory is a pleasant renovated structure with spacious bedrooms, each with its own bathroom.  The program was operating at capacity, 28 individuals accommodated in 14 rooms, at the time of the writer's visit.   The rooms visited by the writer each had hotplates, electric tea kettles, and a modest assortment of tableware and cookware purchased by the families.

 

Rabbi Ehrentreu explained that each family unit prepared its own meals, using the hotplates and other kitchenware that they had purchased with allowances provided by Rabbi Ehrentreu.  The entire group had access to a single refrigerator located in a common room; Rabbi Ehrentreu said that he planned to buy several additional refrigerators.  Rabbi Ehrentreu purchased a supply of staple foods in bulk for residents, and residents bought other items on their own.  The lack of appropriate storage space for food was a major issue.

 

In response to the writer's question about the nutritional value of meals prepared in such a manner, Rabbi Ehrentreu said that he had offered to prepare full meals in the school/dormitory kitchen for residents.  However, he continued, JDC threatened to withhold its monthly medication subsidy (about $40.00 per person) if Rabbi Ehrentreu's kitchen prepared conventional meals for the IDP's in his facility.  Because he is unable to pay for both meals and medicines, Rabbi Ehrentreu terminated plans for a dining room program and confined his nutrition program to the provision of staples and occasional fruit or other perishable items.  The residents thus receive a medical allowance from JDC.   The Jewish Agency, he said, provides some funding for security.

 

One of the major problems for residents, continued Rabbi Ehrentreu, is that no activities are available in which they could participate.  They sit in their rooms all day, he continued, worrying about things that they are unable to influence.  The writer inter-viewed members of four families, whose accounts lent credence to Rabbi Ehrentreu's observation.

 

Milena, a grandmother and apparent spokesperson for the family, said that they had lived in the dormitory for nine months.  She and her husband, their adult daughter, and 15-year old granddaughter had lived in two adjacent apartments in the same building near the Donetsk airport [an area of very heavy fighting].  Their building was still standing, she said, but it is uninhabitable; the windows were blown out during shelling and shattered glass is everywhere; all of their furniture and other belongings are severely damaged by rain and wind.  They fled to Zaporizhzhya and lived for a while with relatives; however, too many people were competing for space in a small apartment, so Milena and her family had to move out after two months.  They went to Rabbi Ehrentreu, who offered them rooms in the dormitory.  Their 15-year old granddaughter/daughter attends Rabbi Ehrentreu's day school.  They are very grateful to him; they pay him nothing.  They believe that there is no future for the granddaughter or other young people in Donetsk.  They are in contact with relatives who emigrated to western Massachusetts in 1994 and hope to join them, but are not yet certain if the relatives really want them to come.  Milena's husband said that he is an old man and doesn't want to end his life this way.

 

Rabbi Nochum Ehrentreu, left, along with Milena, second from right, her daughter and husband, pose for the writer in the Zaporizhzhia Chabad school dormitory.

 

Photo: the writer.

 

 

 

Ms. Kh. also resided in an apartment building close to the Donetsk airport that suffered a similar fate.  She came to Zaporizhzhya six months ago with her adult daughter and a four-year old granddaughter.  However, the daughter suffered a stroke and now is in a wheelchair.  Because the dormitory has no elevator, the daughter must be carried up and down stairs.  They have received some assistance from World Jewish Relief of Great Britain.  An adult son remains in Donetsk, guarding their apartment and looking for work; the son's wife is in Turkey because she found employment there.  Ms. Kh. said that she doesn't know what to do.  Asked by the writer, if she wanted to migrate to another location, Ms. Kh. said that she has no preferred destination; she just would like to live someplace where there is no war.

 

Ms. Kh., below left is 79 years old.  She is with Rabbi Ehrentreu in this photo.  Mr. and Mrs. P., at right, would like to return to their apartment in the center of Donetsk.  He has had two heart attacks and appeared quite fragile.                      All photos on this page: the writer.   

Mr. and Mrs. P. lived in the center of Donetsk, where they slept on the floor of their apartment to escape the impact of bombing.  The police had disappeared, they said, and civil society had broken down.  Mr. P. suffered a heart attack there and, since coming to Zaporizhzhya, had had a second heart attack.  They are very grateful to Rabbi Ehrentreu and to JDC for the assistance that each has provided.  At the same time, they would like to return to their apartment in Donetsk.  They continue to pay their utility bills so that the municipality will not confiscate the apartment.  Asked about other family members, they said that Mr. P. has a sister in Israel, but she is disabled and they do not wish to join her.  Mr. P., who was very emotional and excitable, broke into tears during the writer's visit and said that both his past and his future had been stolen.

 

Mr. and Mrs. K. lived near the center of Donetsk. They left their key with a neighbor and know that their apartment remains intact. They would like to return to their home,  but they need 15 different permits from various authorities to re-enter the city and reclaim their property. Their 50-year old son also came to Zaporizhzhya, where he has an apartment, but is unemployed. The son's ex-wife lives in Crimea with their only grandson, who is 15 years old.  They haven't seen the grandson in many months.  Mr. Kh.'s paralyzed brother remains in Donetsk, alone in his apartment;   even in the terrible conditions now prevailing in Donetsk, the local hesed manages to provide assistance.  Mr. K. is a retired official in a Donetsk utility; Mrs. K. is a retired teacher of mathematics in a technical college.

 

 

Synagogue-Related Programs

 

 

54.  Rabbi Nochum Ehrentreu, a native of Israel, is the Chief Rabbi of Zaporizhzhya.  (See photos on previous pages.)   The arrival of many internally displaced Jews from Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts has added substantially to the workload of Rabbi Ehrentreu, who presides over a shrinking Jewish population in an economically depressed city.  Many of the factories in the city, he said, were dependent on markets in Russia, which now are inaccessible.  Unemployment is awful, inflation is terrible.  In general, Rabbi Ehrentreu said, people are quiet and don't complain, but he wonders how long they will remain quiet.  Many people have left the city, although aliyah to Israel is not quite as high as he had anticipated.  Young people leave because they see no future for themselves in Zaporizhzhya; however, many middle-aged and older people are reluctant to leave their apartments and other properties that they have worked so hard to acquire.  They realize that absorption in Israel may be difficult at their age; they fear that they will be unable to obtain high-quality housing in a major Israeli city.

 

However, the outlook among wealthy Jews is different.  They have the resources to live well in western or central Europe.  Indeed, most of his local major donors have fled Ukraine and now live in Switzerland, Vienna, or the Baltic states.  Once they are out of Zaporizhzhya for a while, he noted, they are psychologically removed from the city and lose interest in supporting the Jewish community that they left behind.  Many donors who remain in Zaporizhzhya fear loss of their resources in the prevailing uncertain circumstances and thus are hoarding their money and are reluctant to contribute to Jewish or other causes.

 

The need for assistance within the Jewish population has increased, continued Rabbi Ehrentreu, not only due to the influx of internally displaced Jews from the Donetsk and Luhansk areas, but also because many local Jews who previously had never associated themselves with the Jewish community are now seeking material and psychological succor among fellow Jews. 

 

The local population, including its Jewish component, is very patriotic in support of Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, said Rabbi Ehrentreu.  In response to a question, he estimated that about 50 Zaporozhzhya fighters had fallen in battle, but he knew of no Jews among them.

 

 

55.  Giymat Rosa, the Chabad synagogue, was completed in 2012.  Designed by a local architect and constructed with local financial support, the building stands on the site of a former synagogue that served as the compulsory assembly point for Jews before they were transported to killing grounds during the Holocaust.

All materials in both the interior and exterior of Giymat Rosa are locally derived.  The center entrance has an access ramp at left.  The prayer hall seats 220 people on the main floor and 110 in the balcony.    The building also contains offices, a community hall, several program areas, and distribution space for synagogue welfare operations.    Photos: the writer.

 

As noted earlier,[91] Rabbi Ehrentreu hopes to acquire a large building in the center of the city that could be used as single community building for various programs.  He envisions a multi-purpose structure that would house the Chabad pre-school and day school, as well as a residence for senior adults (both Jewish and non-Jewish).  He noted that a single kosher kitchen could serve both institutions.

 

 


[91]  See page 17.

 
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