Betsy Gidwitx Reports

 

13.  The International Hasidic Women's Seminary, which enrolled its first class in the 2011-2012 academic year, ceased operations after only two years.  Designed to provide a second-year education experience for English-speaking Chabad female high school graduates who have completed an intensive first-year religious studies course elsewhere, the program collapsed as a result of a management dispute that left the seminary without professional leadership.  Its suspension continues, reflecting financial constraints that preclude the employment of a qualified dean and a recruiter/enrollment manager, as well as the lack of accreditation by a western college that would enable students to earn credit toward a baccalaureate degree.

 

The Dnipropetrovsk seminary included classes in hassidut and education, along with volunteer work in the local Jewish community.  A renewed program would require an expanded curriculum and a formal relationship with a degree-granting institution in a western country or in Israel.

 

 

14.  In addition to three computer laboratories in School #144,[36] World ORT operates a computer education or IT (information technology) laboratory in the Menorah Center that offers a curriculum geared mainly to local adults.  Natalya Medvedova, the director of ORT operations in Dnipropetrovsk, observed that the Menorah Center program had expanded significantly during the last year from two to nine courses.  Among the subjects offered are programming, Excel, bookkeeping, graphic design, 3D computer modeling, and web design.    Fourteen different groups had completed such courses, said Ms. Medvedova, and another four were currently meeting.  Individuals who successfully complete their coursework receive ORT certificates, which often are very useful in career advancement.  All courses require tuition fees, but the cost is significantly lower than charges in commercial IT programs.  Each ORT class enrolls a maximum of 12 students.

 

During the summer, stated Ms. Medvedova, ORT offered an intensive programming course in the Menorah facility for middle-school age youngsters. 

 

Turning to ORT programs in School #144, Ms. Medvedova stated that ORT had installed a small photography, film, and sound laboratory during the current school year.  Although the facility was cramped for space, students enjoyed using the professional equipment now available to them.

 

 

Natalia Medvedova directs all World ORT operations in Dnipropetrovsk.  She is pic-tured at right in the ORT photography and audio studio in School #144.

 

  Photo: the writer.

 

15.  Tkumah - The All-Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies[37] is the most comprehensive Holocaust research center in Ukraine.  Under the leadership of Dr. Igor Schupak, its director, Tkumah opened its nearly 3,000 square meter (approximately 10,000 square feet) Museum of Jewish Memory and Holocaust in Ukraine in October 2012.  The Museum is located within the Menorah Center, and the openings of the Menorah Center and the Museum occurred concurrently.

 

As its name suggests, the Museum is designed to present a comprehensive history of Jewish life on Ukrainian land.   Exhibits about the Holocaust dominate the Museum, but ample space also is committed to an expansive history of Jewish life in Ukraine (with, perhaps, overstated emphasis on the role of Chabad in Ukrainian Jewish life).  Jewish ritual objects are displayed and explained.  Correctly foreseeing that the majority of visitors would be Ukrainians, the content of the museum is intended to be descriptive, instructive, and accessible; its perspective is Ukrainian.  The displays include the Khmelnytskyi pogroms (in 1648), other pogroms in Ukrainian history, collectivization, the Holodmor,[38]  the Soviet terror, and, of course, the Holocaust.

 

The Museum attracts 12,000 to 15,000 visitors annually, said Dr. Schupak.  About 90 percent of them are non-Jewish.  He had hoped for more visitors from other regions of the country, Dr. Schupak acknowledged, but the expense of tourism in current circumstances has limited the ability of people to travel.

 

In addition to maintaining the museum, including periodic changes in some exhibits, the Center for Holocaust Studies conducts research, publishes about 15 books annually, and organizes about 20 seminars every month.  The seminars focus on research, pedagogy (teacher education about the Holocaust and about tolerance), additional ethnic communities (such as Armenians), and World War II.   A popular lecture series, originally entitled Sunday University, continues to operate, but its name has been changed to Sunday Club so as to avoid intimidating people and to encourage discussion among participants.  Another popular venture, a History Club, engages a number of international speakers every year.

 

Dt. Igor Schupak, a native of nearby Zaporizhyzhya, completed his Ph.D. degree at a Canadian university and was recruited by Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki to organize Holocaust research in the area and develop Holocaust teaching materials and exhibits.

 

 

Photo: the writer.

 

 

A continuing primary project of the history and education departments of Tkumah, stated Dr. Schupak, is the integration of Holocaust study into Ukrainian history education at all levels.  Organizations and colleagues in Germany are playing important roles in this endeavor.

 

 Dr.  Schupak noted that historians in Nazi Germany emphasized the Jewish roots of some Bolshevik revolutionaries and that current Russian commentators attempt to portray some contemporary Ukrainian patriots as fascist or Nazi sympathizers in an effort to delegitimize Ukrainian independence.  Continuing on this theme, Dr. Schupak stated that post-Soviet Russian ideology on Ukraine maintains the Soviet line that Russia is the older brother and that all other ethnicities within the old Soviet borders - including both Ukrainians and Jews - are junior or secondary.  Antisemitism and an anti-Ukraine bias are implicit in Russian nationalism.[39]

 

Questioned about financial support of Tkumah, Dr. Schupak said that the principal donor is the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (usually referred to as the Claims Conference).  The local Chabad community also is a significant sponsor, he added.  Although he is grateful for all funds, Dr. Schupak stated, certain past and current donors have created problems because they have attempted to control the Tkumah agenda. 

 

 

16.  The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) operates a Jewish community center, located on two floors of the Menorah Center.  Its largest single component, known as Solomonika, is an activity center for Jewish children and adolescents.  Eighty to 150 school-age children participate in various dance and art classes, chess clubs, and other activities every day after school, said Vadim Farber, the Solomonika director.  Teens have special evening programs, including leadership development units that prepare youth leaders, Mr. Farber continued.  Solomonika also sponsors holiday festivals (usually in collaborative ventures with the Jewish Agency and the Israel Culture Center) that involve entire families.  In response to a question, Mr. Farber said that many programs for children and youth require fees, but that charges are adjusted for those families who cannot pay the standard price.

 

Youngsters in the photo at left participate in one of several Solomonika chess classes for specific age groups.  A Solomonika arts and crafts room is seen in the photo at right.

 

Both photos: the writer.

 

The Tikvah (Hope) program serves developmentally challenged children and youth under the age of 18.  About 50 individuals are enrolled in this activity, most of whom meet once weekly in groups arranged according to age and level of disability.[40]  Tikvah focuses on social development and recreation, rather than on education.  One of its signature programs is animal therapy.  Mr. Farber stated that Tikvah is free of charge to its participants and their families.  Another Solomonika program serves adults with intellectual impairments.

 

A Jewish family service, which might be expected to operate under the same administrative roof as the hesed, is managed by Solomonika instead.[41]  In ordinary circumstances, the family service provided about 100 poverty-stricken families with food, medicine, and/or clothing assistance, said Mr. Farber, but its client load has more than doubled due to the presence of Jewish internally displaced persons in Dnipropetrovsk.  Originally from areas in eastern Ukraine currently under the control of Ukrainian separatists, about 400 such families have registered with JDC.  The goal of JFS, continued Mr. Farber, is that these individuals integrate into the local population or move onward to other cities; JFS services endeavor to steer them in that direction.  Some success has already been achieved, he said, but it is likely that some individuals and families will require long-term assistance.[42]

 

Vadim Farber, originally from nearby Krivoi Rog (Kryvyy Rig), manages a complex program in the Dnipropetrovsk JDC Solomonika center.

 

 

Photo: the writer.

 

 

17.  Project Kesher is a Jewish women's organization that promotes Jewish identity-building, leadership development, women's health, and general non-partisan activism through affiliated groups in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Moldova, and Georgia.  The writer spoke with Ella Sidorenko, a longtime leader of the Project Kesher group in Dnipropetrovsk.


[36]  See page 4.

[37] Another commonly used title is Tkumah Ukrainian Institute for Holocaust Studies.  (Tkumah is a Hebrew word, תקומה, which usually is translated as revival.)

[38] The Holodmor (deriving from the word holod or golod, which means hunger) was a man-made famine occurring in 1932-1933 in Ukraine and several adjacent areas of Russia. The Holodmore is believed to have killed between three and seven million people.  +Major causes of the tragedy were collectivization and rapid industrialization.

[39]  Dr. Schupak's views are widely held among Russian Jews who are Holocaust scholars and among many academic specialists in Russian nationalism.

[40]  As noted previously, many of the youngsters who participate in the JDC Tikvah program also attend the independent Special Needs Educational Resource Center at Beit Chana.  The focus of the Beit Chana program is more educational, the Tikvah program is more social and recreational.

[41]  See page 9 for more information about the Dnipropetrovsk hesed.

[42]  See page 14 for further information about JDC operations in Dnipropetrovsk.

 

 
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