Betsy Gidwitx Reports

 

In response to questions about their backgrounds, Mr. Konyvets said that he had attended the Moscow machon of the World Union for Progressive Judaism for two years after hearing about it at a JDC youth conference.  He currently is enrolled in a distance learning mathematics program at an Odesa college; the curriculum requires that he attend seminars in Odesa twice each year.  Additionally, he stated, he has been involved in several business ventures, including a cleaning service (offices, boats), a recycling center, and a visa service.  Mr. Konyvets observed that his prior experience in JDC and WUPJ had not prepared him for the highly centralized Chabad-controlled Jewish community in Dnipropetrovsk.  He believes that Chabad perceives local Jews as clients, whereas Mr. Konyvets prefers a looser, less formal Jewish communal structure where Jews have many options for living Jewish lives.

 

Mr. Konyvets further noted that his mother is Jewish and his father is not Jewish.  Both parents were surprised, he said, at his Jewish involvement.  He has four brothers, one of whom also participates in Jewish life, mainly through the Jewish Agency.  His maternal grandparents also are actively Jewish, although they have no documents attesting to their Jewish heritage.[30]

 

Mr. Shulman earned a certificate at a Kyiv business technicum (a post-high school technical college) and currently works with Mr. Konyvets in one of his business ventures.  He previously was active in Hillel and in a Jewish community center.  Mr. Shulman had applied to a Masa information technology program in Ariel and was waiting to hear whether he had been accepted.

 

 

11.    See the Light (Фонд «Шиурей Тора Любавич, or Lubavich Torah Lessons Fund)[31], a youth group designed for halachically Jewish adolescents and young adults, was initiated in Dnipropetrovsk in 2012.  It operates under the energetic and creative leadership of Dan Makogon, a local investor who now works almost fulltime for the organization, both as program director and as primary fundraiser.  Although not technically a Chabad organization, the group is very close to the Chabad power structure in Dnipropetrovsk and in several other cities and follows Cha-bad policy in all of its programming.

 

 

Dan Makogon, a well-known Dnipropet-rovsk businessman, attracts halachically Jewish adolescents to a Chabad asso-ciated youth group through technology-based programming and relatively high-end vacations. Mr. Makogon stands near an enlarged version of the STL website.

 

Photo: the writer.

 

 

 

STL has affiliates in 18 different Ukrainian cities, stated Mr. Makogon.  However, its headquarters and most active group are in Dnipropetrovsk, and some of its other chapters barely function.  Young people today, said Mr. Makogon, all want to be "famous," an aspiration that is advanced by the use of modern technology.  Therefore, STL attracts participants through a mix of formal and informal instruction in cinema-tography, opportunities for exotic vacations, and an edgy, almost irreverent approach to Judaism.  Notwithstanding its "edginess," all standards of Orthodoxy are observed, and technology is used to explain and promote appropriate Orthodox behavior.

 

Dnipropetrovsk STL produces periodic web-based news programs in its own studio, young men and women working together to present stories in a style designed to appeal to young people.  However, boys and girls usually occupy different sections of the room when attending formal meetings and classes.  Such was the case in a recently completed six-day urban camp, when boys and girls from Dnipropetrovsk and several other cities studied and participated in both technology-based and more conventional classes on Jewish themes, such as kashrut and appropriately modest fashion.

 

In response to a question, Mr. Makogon stated that almost all STL members in Dnipropetrovsk currently are enrolled in the Chabad Jewish day school or are recent graduates of it.  In Kyiv, he continued, about 50 percent of participants are associated with day schools.  In some smaller communities, no Jewish day school exists, so STL exercises the principal role in creating a young person's Jewish identity.

 

In addition to urban camps or seminars that are held during school-year vacation periods, STL also attracts participants by staging summer camps in fashionable locations.  For example, a 2015 summer camp for boys convened in the Austrian Alps, where extreme sports joined religious education as major program components.  The corresponding session for girls was held at a Black Sea resort owned by a Dnipro-petrovsk Jew.  The majority of campers at each site were 14 or 15 years old.  STL trained its own counselors, some of whom were only 16 or 17.  Participants were charged about $70 for the three-week sessions, a small portion of the actual cost.  Other incentives include tee shirts, school supplies, and small watches bearing the STL logo. 

 

Its edgy programming serves as an enticement for new members.  Current participants are urged to invite their halachically Jewish friends to STL events and to promote STL through their own Facebook or other social media connections. 

 

 

12.  The Beit Chana International Humanitarian-Pedagogical Institute was established as the Beit Chana Jewish Women's Pedagogical Institute in 1995 to prepare teachers and childcare workers for Chabad-sponsored preschools and elementary schools throughout the post-Soviet states.  Initially, it recruited its all-female student enrollment mainly from smaller cities and towns, assuming that Jewish young women in such locales would be eager to escape their often stifling small town environments for associate degree-equivalent programs in a larger city (although both the Beit Chana academic building and dormitory are located in outlying areas).  Beit Chana offered free tuition and free room and board in return for a commitment to teach in Chabad schools upon graduation.  Over time, the institution was forced to confront both the conse-quences of lower educational achievement of girls from such circumstances and demographic developments that sharply reduced the number of Jewish young women in smaller towns.   Further, many young women were reluctant to commit to residence in an isolated gender-segregated dormitory with a religious lifestyle, and some lacked interest in pursuing pedagogical careers.

 

Beit Chana never reached its capacity enrollment of between 200 and 250 young women.  It achieved its peak of 165 students some years ago, and its 2008-2009 enrollment plummeted to 70.  Acknowledging that the institution was unlikely to survive without a “new vision,” Beit Chana made several changes in its curriculum and operational procedures in recent years and intends to evolve further in the future.  First, it earned accreditation to award full baccalaureate degrees, thus enhancing its appeal.  It now confers associate degrees in pre-school and early elementary education as well as full bachelor's degrees in education, practical psychology, and business management.[32]    Some subjects are taught in the form of intensive seminars led by visiting Israeli specialists.   Employ-ment in Chabad institutions is guaranteed to all graduates.  Second, it scrapped its residential requirement, opening all programs to day/commuter female students from Dnipro-petrovsk and environs.

 

 

Marina Mukhina, rector of Beit Chana, has struggled with developing a curriculum that appeals to young women of non-religious backgrounds.  Financial constraints within the Chabad community deter program expansion.

 

Photo: the writer

 

Third, Beit Chana developed a master's degree program in education for current teachers; the curriculum includes local classes, distance learning, and intensive seminar sessions.  Fourth, after many years of seeking a workable relationship with an existing accredited full university, Beit Chana signed an agreement with the Dnipropetrovsk-based Alfred Nobel University in 2015.  The new relationship allows Beit Chana students to pursue full undergraduate and graduate degrees in several additional fields.[33]  Finally, although plans to move to a spacious two-building complex in the center of town have stalled due to financial constraints, the Chabad community is still seeking in-town premises that will enhance the appeal of the institution to potential students.

 

Marina Mukhina, rector of Beit Chana, stated that 138 young women currently are enrolled at the institution (2014-2015 academic year), an increase from the previous year's census of 120.  Forty girls reside in the dormitory, she continued.  Although a few dormitory residents are natives of Dnipropetrovsk, most are from other cities in eastern Ukraine, such as Kharkiv, Krivyy Rig, and Zaporizhzhya.  Some are internally displaced

persons from Donetsk who might not have enrolled in Beit Chana if circumstances had enabled them to remain in Donetsk.  The youngest student is 16, she responded to a question, and the oldest is 30.[34]  Most, she said, enter the institution between the ages of 16 and 20.

 

The regular faculty at Beit Chana was supplemented during the 2014-2015 academic year by the presence of Israeli "house parents" in the dormitory.  An older couple, the house parents were tasked with adding warmth to the residence by inviting boarders into their apartment for informal gatherings, cooking lessons, tutoring in religious subjects, and observing an example of a good, stable marriage.[35]

 


[30]  Apparently, such documents were lost in the upheavals of World War II or other stressful episodes, a not uncommon occurrence in the Soviet Union.

[31] See the Light and the Russian version of Lubavich Torah Lessons Fund seem to be used interchangeably by Dnipropetrovsk Chabad, although the two terms are not identical in meaning. They do, however, share the same English initials <STL>, if the Russian letter Ш is translated rather loosely. <STL> is used very broadly in publicity about the group.

[32]Beit Chana intends to add undergraduate degrees in web design and foreign languages (Hebrew and English) in the near future.

[33] Initially. Beit Chana had such an agreement with Crimean State University, but this arrangement was terminated after Russia invaded Crimea and absorbed it into Russia.  Periodic discussions occurred with Touro College, an Orthodox Jewish institution in the United States with several affiliates abroad, but these negotiations floundered for various reasons.  Alfred Nobel University is a private institution established in 1993.  It has no relationship with the Nobel family of Sweden or with the Nobel prizes.

[34] Students may elect to enroll at age 16 in the equivalent of tenth grade after finishing an incomplete secondary education (неполное среднее образование) program.  Such early entrants would finish high school and obtain a junior specialist certificate after several years at Beit Chana.

[35] At the time that the writer met the Israeli couple, their ability to speak Russian was rudimentary.

 

 
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