Betsy Gidwitx Reports



OCTOBER 1993 (continued)


7. Mikhail Karshenbaum is a member of he Council. In his capacity as editor of the Russian language Jewish newspaper, Shabbat Shalom. If the newspaper had adequate financial support, it would be published in monthly editions of eight pages. However, it has printed only sixteen issues since its founding in 1981. Its cost to readers is 60 Ukrainian coupons,15 well below its production costs. Reporters do not receive regular salaries, but are compensated for each article that is published. The newspaper was trying to acquire advertising and sponsorships from wealthy Jewish industrialists. Rabbi Kamintezky provided some financial assistance to the paper as did the local Israel Cultural Center operated by the Israeli Lishvat hakesher.16

(The most recent edition of the paper, published in a press run of three thousand copies. It is distributed in Zaporozhe, Krivo Rog and Dneprodzerzhinsk, as well as in Dnipropetrovsk.

8. The same firm that published Shabbat Shalom also prints a four-page Russian language newspaper, Mosiach Times. Approximately one-fourth of the front page was reserved for local news. The frequency of publication of Yeladim is unclear, it is distributed free of charge.

9. The Dnipropetrovsk. Jewish Day School has moved to spacious new premises in a renovated facility that previously accommodated a boarding school .17 It enrolls 650 students (compared with 295 last year) in eleven grades, its staff complement includes forty-four teachers, one physician and one dentist, three nurses and approximately twenty support staff.

The main building contains thirty classrooms, including science laboratories and a computer room (the later waiting a donor to supply the computers). With the assistance of parents, some classrooms have been tastefully decorated with curtains and wallpaper. A kosher kitchen and dining hall are due to be completed in January.18 Major remodeling is planned for a separate building that includes an auditorium/social hall, library, gymnasium and several additional classrooms. A freestanding greenhouse (currently unused) is located immediately behind the main building.

According to Rabbi Kaminetzky, the school “could not exist” without its fleet of five buses (three owned and two rented) that transport children and teachers from every district of the city. Because of rising fuel costs, the buses are increasingly expensive to operate. The vehicles are overcrowded, with 118 children assigned to each bus. Further difficulties ensue when many parents routinely join their children on the buses, using the school fleet as an alternative means of transportation to and from their workplaces.

Semyon Issakovich Kaplunsky, the school principal, explained that the school is in session from 8:30 to 2:00 PM; after school programs are available until 6:00 PM. The curriculum includes all usual secular subjects, compulsory classes in four languages (Ukrainian, Russian, Hebrew and English) and compulsory classes in Jewish tradition, history, literature, music and Israeli geography. The Jewish component is very superficial – no subject other than Hebrew is taught more than once weekly – reflecting a belief of Rabbi Kaminetzky and others that after seven decades of forced secularization, few families would welcome more intensive Jewish education. However, some outside specialists familiar with the school (including professionals from the Joint Distribution Committee, several Israelis and Rabbi Yaakov bleich, Chief Rabbi of Ukraine) believe that the Judaic component could and should be strengthened with the assistance of Israel and/or American Jewish educators.

In common with other Jewish schools (both day schools and supplemental schools) in the former Soviet Union, the Dnipropetrovsk schools suffers from a severe lack of suitable textbooks in all Jewish subjects. The Ukrainian government supplies textbooks for secular subjects.

Classes in Jewish tradition are taught by young women student teachers from Chabad teaching seminaries in Israel who come to the city for three or four month internships. Some local Hebrew teachers have attended training courses in Israel or in the Soviet successor states. The school celebrates all Jewish holidays.

Rabbi Kaminetzky and Principal Kaplunsky assert that the school has an excellent reputation in the city, a claim that appears to be validated by its large enrollment in only its fourth year of existence. All teachers are employed under one-year contracts; no tenure system exists.

The school has recently begun to assign boys and girls to separate classrooms to strengthen discipline and to facilitate the teaching of certain sensitive subjects, such as biology. Mr. Kaplunsky acknowledged that some parents are opposed to this policy.

Mr. Kaplunsky expressed gratitude to the Boston visitors for the various supplies that were presented to the school – English language books. Judaica books and teaching materials, art materials (felt-tip pens, crayons, construction paper) and audio tape cassettes, etc.

10. A more traditional yeshiva high school, now in its second year of operation, also exists in the city Currently enrolling thirty boys, it is meeting in a separate facility until it can accommodated in the classrooms of the second building (not yet renovated) of the day school. The curriculum for these boys includes one half day of secular subjects and one half day of religious subjects. According to Rabbi Kaminetzky, most of the boys in this program are from families that managed to remain traditional under the Soviet regime or have other longstanding ties to the Chabad movement.

11. A Sunday school sponsored by the Lishkat haKesher enrolls eighty youngsters between the ages of six and sixteen who meet for three classes according to age, and concurrent sessions are held for parents. Faina Gendina, the principal of the school heads a teaching staff of five local people and two young Israeli women.19 The Sunday School curriculum includes Hebrew language, Jewish tradition, Jewish history and Israel music and dance. Some students are enrolled in additional Hebrew classes at the Israel Culture Center during the week. Mrs. Gendina said that a lack of suitable textbooks is a major problem; she that the Israeli books supplied through the Lishkar haKesher are inappropriate. Because children and their families are so eager to learn English, Judaic texts in English would be welcome (although Mrs. Gendina noted that few teachers are sufficiently skilled in English to use English-language text properly).

Turnover among the students is substantial because of heavy emigration to Israel. Mrs. Gendina and her husband Mikhail Gendin who also teaches at the school, estimated that fifty to eighty percent of the children currently enrolled in the Sunday school would leave for Israel within a year or shortly thereafter.

The Sunday school has been unwillingly peripatetic, changing its premises four times within the past year. It has been asked to leave its current facilities, a technical college for mining students because the property supervisor of the college is strongly anti-Semitic and does not want Jewish youngsters to use its classrooms. The supervisor asserts that Jews created the atomic bomb and thus are responsible for subsequent radiation-related problems, now that these radiation difficulties are becoming overwhelmingly burdensome to Ukrainians , the supervisor declares, Jews are skipping out to Israel and leaving Ukrainians to cope with the consequences of Jewish evilness.20

Children at the school presented the Boston group with artwork to be exchanged with a Jewish school in the Boston area. Mrs. Gendina said that the school would welcome further associations with children, educators and schools in Boston.

12. An Open Jewish University, strongly supported by Rabbi Kaminetzky, is a new Jewish educational initiative in the city. More than one hundred adults, most of whom are parents of children in the day school or Sunday school, have submitted applications to its first classes (which are due to begin in late November). Classes will be held at the day school on Sundays and in the evenings. Tuition is free of charge.

Leonid M. Cherkov, the director of the school, informed the visitors from Boston that qualified instructors will offer courses in Hebrew, Jewish philosophy, Jewish tradition, Israel and contemporary Jewish life. His goal is to reach most of the Jewish adults in the city “to combat assimilation, encourage Jewish pride, and foster a return to God”. Mr. Cherkov requested assistance from JDC and from Jews in Boston, including teaching materials (textbooks, literature, educational cassettes) Jewish ritual items, a Jewish library for adults21 and financial support to compensate the eight teachers on its staff ($500 each month for all eight collectively). He is especially eager for materials useful in teaching Hebrew.

13. Rabbi Kaminetzky also noted that Mr. Cherkov was experienced in adult Jewish education. Mr. Cherkov already teaches twelve older Jews (ages sixty-seven to eighty-one) in a synagogue class thrre times each week using a Russian-language translation of To Be A Jew by Haim Donin. One of the attractions of the synagogue class, acknowledged Rabbi Kaminetzky, is that participants receive a small payment and a meal after their studies.

16. Both the Lishka and the Jewish Agency subside a number of local newspapers in the Soviet successor states for sums of about fifty dollars per issue. In return, the newspapers print news about Israel (often translations of articles from the Israeli press) provided by the respective agencies.

17. The original projected cost of renovation was $80,000, of which Rabbi Kaminetzky raised $30,000 from three donors ($10,000 each) in the United States. The municipality agreed to pay the remaining $30,000 in Ukrainian currency. According to Rabbi Kaminetzky, the actual cost of rebuilding the school is approximately $100,000; the municipality is paying the additional $40,000 in Ukrainian coupons.

18. Ukrainian law provides subsidies for free school lunches for all children through grade four. Older children must pay for their school meals.


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