Betsy Gidwitx Reports

 

He maintains the community data base that he developed in Donetsk and  is in contact with many internally displaced Jews from the city who now live in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Zhytomyr, Mykolaiv, Cherkasy, and Odesa.   Of course, he sees those in Kyiv most frequently; he rents hotel space for gatherings on Sundays, holidays, and an occasional Shabbaton.  Two hundred people, some of whom flew into Kyiv from other countries, attended a Pesach seder that he arranged in the Ukrainian capital.  He provides food parcels, clothing, and rent subsidies for about 300 families.   He also tries to help people find employment, but that often is more difficult.

 

Rabbi Pinchas Vishedski led a Jewish community in Donetsk.  Now based in Kyiv in an office owned by one of his Donetsk congre-gants, he tries to assist those who remain in Donetsk, those who have settled in other Ukrainian cities, and those who have moved to Israel.

Photo: the writer.

 

Rabbi Vishedski estimated that about 200 Donetsk Jewish families emigrated to Israel, some of them reluctantly.  They left Ukraine with nothing, he said, but have received special assistance in Israel from Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

 

His largest assistance operation remains in Donetsk.  About 2,500 Jews remain in the troubled city, he stated.  One rabbi, a native of Donetsk who left when the Russians came, subsequently returned and now directs the Chabad community; the Chabad JCC director also remains, as does another employee who was part of the management team.  Sixty to 70 people come to the synagogue on Saturday for Shabbat, and over 200 attended a Pesach seder.  The Chabad welfare service provides about 300 hot meals every day for those who are able to come to the synagogue.  Food parcels, and some medicines are distributed.  Eighteen youngsters remain in the Chabad day school (from a normal enrollment of 145) and seven children remain in the preschool (from a prior enrollment of 45).  On a personal level, his family housekeeper comes into his family apartment every day to ensure that everything remains in order.

 

Rabbi Vishedski reflected that few other rabbis are providing assistance to the Donetsk Jewish population.  Two notable exceptions, he said, are Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki from Dnipropetrovsk and Rabbi Nochum Ehrentreu from Zaporizhzhia, both of whom have permitted Jewish IDP's from Donetsk to remain in their own welfare facilities without charge.[103]  He also singled out Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, who has provided significant financial assistance over many months; he realizes, continued Rabbi Vishedsky, that Rabbi Eckstein remains controversial among some people, but, as far as Rabbi Vishedsky is concerned, Rabbi Eckstein is a real tzadik (Heb., righteous man).  The Joint Distri-bution Committee also provides some assistance, both in Donetsk and to Donetsk Jewish IDP's who now reside elsewhere, said Rabbi Vishedski.

 

It is difficult to predict what will happen in the future, Rabbi Vishedski acknowledged.  However, he said, Donetsk remains his home.

 

 

Welfare

 

 

72.  Raisa Gritsenko directs Hesed Bnei, the JDC welfare center in Kyiv.  The hesed serves about 9,330 clients, said Ms. Gritsenko, although the census declines from year to year as elderly clients die and are not replaced.  In order to cope with higher costs and diminished resources, JDC has tightened qualifications for assistance and thus accepts fewer new clients.[104]

 

Notwithstanding budgetary constraints, the hesed provides a range of services to help elderly Jews and some Jewish families in distress.   Perhaps the most basic is the distribution of discount cards that recipients can use to purchase food and medicines.  Cash may be disbursed to people to pay utility bills or to buy specific items of clothing.  On occasion, the hesed also purchases new furniture for people whose old furniture requires replacement.

 

 

Raisa Gritsenko, left, is the manager of Hesed Bnei, in Kyiv.

 

Photo: the writer.

 

 

One of the premier hesed onsite programs is its day center, which operates day-long programs for seniors.  Groups of 20 to 30 individuals participate each day, brought to the hesed and returned to their homes in private vans twice each month.  While at the hesed, they are served a hot breakfast and lunch, confer with social service workers about health issues and are referred to specialists, participate in various clubs and cultural activities, and receive hair dressing services.

 

Jewish seniors who are mobile and can travel to and from the hesed on their own participate in other onsite programs, such as music and art groups, discussion groups, and various clubs, including a choir and other musical ensembles.  The hesed also has developed a fitness program, said Ms. Gritsenko, with specific plans tailored to the needs of individuals.

 

The hesed distributes skin lotions, products for people with limited mobility (such as walkers and wheelchairs), and other health care devices and supplies (such as adult diapers).  Fortunately, Ms. Gritsenko said, the hesed is assisted by a group of very capable volunteers who provide valuable help in managing the day programs and distribution of various welfare products.

 

About 1,600 immobile clients receive patronage services, that is, house cleaning, shopping, personal care, and cooking in their own homes.  Each client is served a certain number of hours per week; social service workers maintain contact with clients by telephone at other times.  All patronage clients are given laminated cards with emergency telephone numbers of local ambulance providers, the fire department, etc.

 

Three independent dining rooms serving impoverished Jews receive partial subsidies from Hesed Bnei, stated Ms. Gritsenko.  These are at the Simcha community of Rabbi Levenhartz (about 50 people each day), the Brodsky shul of Rabbi Asman (16 to 18 people daily), and Mechta (20 to 25 people).[105]

 

Hesed Bnei also delivers meals-on-wheels to 30 clients who are unable to shop or cook on their own.  Many more people need such assistance, Ms. Gritsenko stated, but such a program is very expensive to operate and the hesed simply lacks the resources to serve additional people.

 

The hesed staff includes a psychologist who is available for consultations.  Many people, said Ms. Gritsenko, need counseling during these troubled times.  In addition to the loneliness often experienced by elderly people living alone, some individuals are severely stressed in an economic sense and others are very troubled by the political instability in the country. 

 

 

73.  The writer was unable to visit an assisted living home for elderly Jews that is operated under the sponsorship of Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich.  This facility usually accommodates approximately 28 to 30 residents; their expenses are covered by rental fees from commercial properties located in the same building.

 

 

Ukrainian Jewish Organizations

 

 

74.  The Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine, better known as the Ukrainian Vaad, is chaired by Iosif Zissels, a longtime Jewish community observer and leader in Ukraine. Although strapped for funds in the current economic environment, the Vaad works in four main areas: Jewish property preservation and restoration, as well as archival research; interethnic tolerance; representation of Ukrainian Jewry in various international forums; and operation of Jewish community programs in small Jewish population centers, focusing on summer camps for adolescents.[106] The Vaad has sponsored heritage expeditions to places of Jewish interest in Ukraine, and Mr. Zissels himself is regarded as well-informed and a capable analyst of Ukrainian Jewry.

 

Iosif Zissels is a veteran professional in the Ukrainian Jewish community. He is a native of Chernivtsi.

 

Photo: the writer .

 

Speaking of Jewish internally displaced people from the Donetsk and Luhansk areas, Mr. Zissels said that approximately 6,000 had left these areas during the summer of 2014.  About 50 percent of them emigrated to Israel and 10 percent fled to different cities in Russia.  The remaining 40 percent remain in Ukraine, he continued, having established residence in a number of different cities.  Since summer, additional Jewish IDP's have gone to Israel; probably 5,800 in all have resettled there.  However, he knows that some of these Ukrainian olim (immigrants to Israel) have returned to Ukraine.  About 145 Ukrainian Jewish IDP's have migrated to Germany, and another 100 have gone to the United States.

 

Today (mid-April, 2015), about 10,000 Jews remain in eastern Ukraine, Mr. Zissels said. The situation for them there is dire.  Inflation is even higher than in the rest of the country, and infrastructure (such as heating systems) has broken down.  It is difficult to obtain medicines and other necessities of life.  In some areas, including major cities, lawlessness prevails and remaining residents often are victims of crime.  People continue to reside in these places so as to protect their property.  If they abandon their apartments, others will just take them over.

 

Regarding antisemitism, Mr. Zissels said that it remains at a constant low level.  Ukrainians "distinguish between friends and enemies", and they know that many Jewish oligarchs are helping Ukraine at this time of great pressure upon the country.  He stated that he is "not worried" about the antisemitism that does exist.

 

Questioned about the general mood (настроение) in Ukraine, Mr. Zissels said that the atmosphere is characterized by a great deal of anxiety (тревога).  People fear more war and terror attacks.  They are uneasy about the economy, particularly inflation and job security.  For Jews, he said, another question is whether they should emigrate or remain.  Many of the "elite" (Jewish and non-Jewish), he noted, really don't care who controls eastern Ukraine, as long as the war ends.

 

 

75.  The writer was unable to meet with any representative from United Jewish Community of Ukraine.

 


[103] See pages 10 and 18 in this report.

[104] See page 25 for an interview with Dani Gershkovitz, director of JDC for central and western Ukraine.

[105] See page 21 regarding the Brodsky synagogue and page 19 regarding Rabbi Levenhartz' Simcha welfare operation.  Mechta (Мечта) means dream in English.

[106] See the writer's Observations on Jewish Community Life in Ukraine March 21-April 8, 2011, page 21, for a description of the Ukrainian Vaad.

 
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