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Journey To Jewish Population Centers In Ukraine

April, May, 1999
(continued)


Most Jewish elderly, commented Mr. Khazin, are grateful for anything that the hesed is able to give them. However, some seniors are so embittered by their pain-filled lives that they are unable to express appreciation at all. Instead, they greet service-providers by snarling, “Is this all that you brought me? Just this?” Such experiences, said Mr. Khazin, generate serious morale problems among hesed workers.

62. The writer was unable to speak with the local Jewish Agency representative, whose offices are adjacent to those of JDC. Aliyah from Donetsk is high, about 1,700 people each year. JAFI believes that poor economic conditions in the area can encourage even more local Jews to move to Israel. As noted elsewhere, It hopes to reinforce its local Donetsk staff with a professionally-trained Israeli aliyah shaliach (emissary) in September.

Kharkiv

63. With a population of 1.5 million, Kharkiv is the second largest city in Ukraine. Its proximity to the Don River Basin (Donbas) and Krivoy Rog iron ore range led to its development as a major center of heavy industry. Kharkiv also hosts a number of Ukrainian institutions of higher education. Financial distress has led to significant contraction of several sectors of the economy, including industry, higher education, and medical services. A city of unusual political complexity, Kharkiv was capital of Ukraine from 1921 to 1934. Although heavily russified and home to a RNE (Russian National Unity) group, UNA-UNSO (Ukrainian nationalists) also has followers in the city.

The Jewish population of Kharkiv is about 36,000. Kharkiv and Cincinnati are “sister cities”, but a functional relationship has proved difficult to attain at either the municipal or Jewish communal levels due to difficult operating conditions in Kharkiv as well as a lack of commitment in Cincinnati.

64. Rabbi Moishe Moskowitz, a Chabad hasid and Chief Rabbi of Kharkiv, believes that the general atmosphere in Kharkiv is much better than it was last year. The improvement reflects the reality that the governor of Kharkiv oblast and the mayor of the city are allies and work well together, as opposed to previous years in which other men occupying those posts were competitors. Rabbi Moskowitz noted that both the governor and the mayor attended a Holocaust memorial observation this year at Drobitsky Yar, a site where 15,000 Jews were massacred on December 26, 1941.

Notwithstanding the improved political atmosphere, the local economy remains very troubled. Jewish emigration continues at a high rate. Many young people are leaving for Israel; some older people prefer to go to Germany because that country offers superior economic benefits to immigrants.

65. Rabbi Moskowitz expressed optimism that the bizarre and troubling situation regarding Eduard Khodos may soon be resolved. Mr. Khodos, who claimed to represent the World Union for Progressive Judaism (Reform movement) in the city, occupied the second floor and half of the basement in the choral synagogue.79

Mr. Khodos currently is appealing a court decision convicting him of vandalizing an electrical meter in the synagogue. Rabbi Moskowitz explained that the water and electrical meters for the synagogue are located in a closet in the section of the basement controlled by Mr. Khodos. Periodically, Mr. Khodos (or the young men in his boxing club) would vandalize the meters. Meter readers would report the damage and suspend further service to the synagogue until a fine was paid. Mr. Khodos always refused to pay the fine, referring local authorities to Rabbi Moskowitz. Because his section of the synagogue (including a soup kitchen subsidized by JDC) was dependent on the same service, Rabbi Moskowitz paid the fine. After several cycles of paying fines for damage that Chabad did not cause, Rabbi Moskowitz arranged for separate electricity cables to be installed in Chabad-controlled areas of the synagogue. (Rabbi Moskowitz said that municipal utility authorities were aware that Mr. Khodos was responsible for the damage and were sympathetic to the Chabad request for the change in service.)80

Mr. Khodos’ judicial appeal seems muted, observed Rabbi Moskowitz. It appears that Mr. Khodos is attempting to portray himself as a victim of persecution by Chabad on the grounds that he is a representative of Progressive Judaism. Mr. Khodos met with officials of both the Communist Party of Ukraine and Ukrainian nationalists in Kyiv, requesting their support. However, both groups declined to advocate on his behalf. Rabbi Moskowitz said that neither of the two WUPJ groups in Kharkiv was supporting Mr. Khodos.81 In a visit to Kyiv one week after speaking with Rabbi Moskowitz, the writer was told by Rabbi David Wilfond of WUPJ, that both of the WUPJ groups in Kharkiv had been dissolved. Further, said Rabbi Wilfond, WUPJ no longer supported Mr. Khodos; the initial association with him had been forced by the President of the Association of Congregations for Progressive Judaism in Ukraine, who subsequently had a falling-out with Mr. Khodos.

In the meantime, said Rabbi Moskowitz, electrical service to Mr. Khodos’ section of the synagogue has not been renewed. Most of his activities have ceased, with the exception of Shabbat morning gatherings on the second floor by a small group of elderly men (without the presence of Mr. Khodos). Mr. Khodos no longer resides on the second floor and he appears to have removed most of his personal belongings from the synagogue. The extreme boxing club no longer meets in the basement. Rabbi Moskowitz is optimistic that the situation will be resolved in his favor.

Rabbi Moskowitz believes that the oblast and the city strongly desire that the choral synagogue be restored; the presence of an elegant choral synagogue will testify to the city’s tolerance and enhance its appearance.82 If they had not charged Mr. Khodos with vandalism, they would have prosecuted him on some other charges. Rabbi Moskowitz is confident that the appeal will be decided in his favor. Government authorities are aware that Chabad will proceed with renovation of the structure only if it is assured full use of the entire building. A wealthy local Jew already has promised Rabbi Moskowitz substantial funding for resto-ration.





The interior of the Kharkiv choral synagogue is in ruins.


66. Regarding local fundraising, Rabbi Moskowitz said that four wealthy Jews in Kharkiv contribute fairly large sums of money to his operations. However, he lamented, they were much more enthusiastic about funding special projects than supporting day-to-day needs of the community.

67. Despite severe economic difficulties and the prominence in Kharkiv life of several wealthy Jews, antisemitism has not increased in the city, said Rabbi Moskowitz. However, the continuing deterioration of economic conditions has generated new Jewish emigration. “Kharkiv is leaving,” he said.

68. Rabbi Levi Reitzes, an associate of Rabbi Moskowitz, continues to carry a heavy teaching load in the Chabad day school (see below). However, he and Rabbi Chaim Levinson, a local individual, also are doing outreach work in a number of smaller Jewish population centers elsewhere in the oblast.

69. The Chabad day school (School #170) enrollment is stable, with 450 pupils in two different buildings. The pre-school and lower grades are in a former pre-school building, and the middle and upper grades occupy one full floor and portions of the other two floors of a public middle school building. As the enrollment of the middle school is declining from year to year (due to the falling birthrate in Ukraine), Rabbi Moskowitz is hopeful that the municipality will soon assign its dwindling number of pupils to other schools and permit School #170 to use the entire structure.


79.  Both Chabad and Mr. Khodos had claimed the large choral synagogue. Oblast officials had divided the structure between the two groups, assigning the ground floor to Chabad, the second floor to Mr. Khodos, and dividing the basement between them. Because Mr. Khodos controls the women’s balcony and, thus, the “airspace” in the synagogue sanctuary, the sanctuary is not used. (The sanctuary is in ruins and unusable. See photo on p. 64.) Rabbi Moskowitz holds services (attracting 130 individuals on Shabbat) and other synagogue activities in a large vestibule. Chabad built a mikveh in its half of the basement; Mr. Khodos operated an “extreme boxing” (minimoto) club in its portion of the basement. Rabbi Moskowitz obtained foreign funding for extensive exterior renovation of the synagogue, including restoration of its copper cupola and replacement of gutters and downspouts, which was completed in early 1998. A fire, which appears to have originated in two places simultaneously, broke out in the synagogue sanctuary on August 30, 1998. It caused severe damage and is believed to have been started by individuals associated with Mr. Khodos.

Mr. Khodos often espouses strong Ukrainian nationalist and anti-American views. On several occasions, he has purchased time on local television programs in which he is shown burning American flags. His ritual in these performances is to wear a kipa (Jewish headcover) and light a torch from an eternal flame at a war monument. He has asserted during television programs and in newspaper interviews that Jews are money-hungry and that he understands why Hitler wanted to kill Jews. Mr. Khodos finished a poor third in a three-person election for mayor in 1998.

80.  After Mr. Khodos or people associated with him vandalized the basement meters following installation of separate meters in the Chabad-controlled area of the synagogue, Mr. Khodos again refused to pay the fine. He blamed Chabad for the subsequent termination of electrical service to his section of the synagogue, a charge that was widely believed by individuals associated with the World Union for Progressive Judaism.
81.  Mr. Khodos was president of a group called The Liberal Jewish Community. A second Kharkiv group, Religious Community of Progressive Judaism, was headed by another individual, but also was effectively controlled by Mr. Khodos.
82.  The synagogue was built in 1909. It was expropriated by the state during the Soviet period and designated a historic landmark. The Department of Architecture (Отдел архитектуры) of Kharkiv oblast holds title to the building, although the Jewish community was never compensated for its seizure.

 
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