Betsy Gidwitx Reports



OCTOBER 1993 (continued)


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.

14. Another new Jewish educational institution in Dnipropetrovsk is the “Kristal” Jewish technical school currently meeting in the premises of school #44 on the east bank of the Dnepr River. Initiated by Anna Semyonovna Eidelman, the purpose of the school is to prepare Jews for employment in Israel. The school offers classes of six to eight months duration in secretarial studies, bookkeeping, office management, hairdressing and nursing. The nursing curriculum includes supervised experience in a local hospital. Also offered are classes in Hebrew and English. A separate section for children offers Hebrew and English classes after school.

The school is a private initiative, requiring tuition payments from its students; it has been profitable almost from its inception. A large number of those enrolled in technical courses are non-Jews.

Rabbi Kaminetzky provided some financial assistance to the school in its early months and hopes that it can become a focal point to those Jews (a minority of the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish population, but still “tens of thousands” of people) who live on the east side of the river. All other Jewish institutions are located on the west side.22

15. The Israel Cultural Center is one of eleven such facilities in the Soviet successor states operated by the Lishkat haKesher. It is located in recently renovated premises near the center of the city. The current director is Kalman Shor, a veteran of the Moscow center, who is in Dnipropetrovsk for only one month. Mr. Shor believes that his successor will remain in Dnipropetrovsk for six to twelve months.23 Several local Jews are employed to manage the Center’s Judaica library, operate youth activities and perform other functions. The Center is opened from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. Sunday through Thursday; it is opened Friday mornings and every Friday evening for a secular kabbalat Shabbat program. The busiest day of the week at the Center is Sunday.

A Hebrew urban at the Center teaches Hebrew at eight different instructional levels, reaching 500 people in daytime and evening classes averaging fifteen students each. The ulpan is staffed by two qualified teachers from Israel who are in the city for terms of six months and two younger post-army women from the kibbutz movement who are in Dnipropetrovsk for two-month periods. The two young women also teach Hebrew in the local Sunday school and assist in youth activities.

The largest room in the Center is a social hall that also houses an extensive Russian-language library focusing on Jewish topics and Israel. It includes Russian-language Israeli newspapers and daily news bulletins from Israel received by electronic mail.

Most items can be checked out of the library for use at home by individual patrons of the facility.

Ten computers programmed with information about Israel attract youth to the building.24

The Center sponsors and Israeli-focused story for small children, which is held on Sunday school classes. It has also become a puppet theater, which has proved very popular; its first production was scheduled for one performance, but demand was so great that three additional presentations were held.

Mr. Shor is also planning activities for older youth, acceding to their preferences for disco evenings. Israeli folk dancing, he acknowledged, has not proved popular.

20. A large number of Chernobyl survivors has resettled in Dnipropetrovsk, establishing its own lobbying group, the Union of Chernobyl Victims. The activities of this group have heightened anxiety in the city school about existing environmental programs deriving from the concentration of heavy industry in the region.

The Gendins reported that the school encountered similar problems in the other buildings from which it had been evicted earlier. It is likely that the Sunday school could use the premises of the day school for its Sunday classes, but the Lishvat hsKesher appears eager to define the Sunday school as an institution under its own auspices independent from local sponsorship.

21. The Joint Distribution Committee has already provided a Russian language Judaica library to Dnipropetrovsk Jewry, awaiting renovation of the library in the day school (in which the open university will hold its classes) the library is now accessible to would-be-patrons only with difficulty.

22. Aware that the mandate of the Jewish Agency for Israel includes training olim for employment in the Jewish state, Betsy Gidwitz has discussed possible JAPI participation in this institution with JAFI officials in Jerusalem. The new JAFI representative In Dnipropetrovsk will explore such a relationship when he arrives in the city. Notwithstanding her avowed objective of preparing future olim for employment in Israel, Mrs. Edelman has held no prior discussions with Israeli officials about the curriculum of the school.

23. Staffing has been a persistent problem in several Israeli Cultural Centers, including those in major cities as St. Petersburg. Turnover has been frequent and a number of directors have been criticized by local Jews for arrogance and aggressiveness. Lev Yammitzky, who opened the Dnipropetrovsk facility, left the city in May and is now one of three first secretaries of the Israel embassy in Kiev. Between his departure and the arrival of Mr. Shor in September, the Dnipropetrovsk center was supervised by a Lishka official based in Kharkov.

24. Mr. Shor acknowledged a problem with he computer operations at this and similar facilities, in their enthusiasm for computer activity, several youngsters routinely ignore the Israel-oriented software and use the computers for games and other non-Zionist programming for hours at a time. Such ventures were evident during our Sunday afternoon visit.

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