Betsy Gidwitx Reports
Visit To Jewish Communities In Ukraine And Moldova
April-May, 1994


126. As noted in the section on Pavlograd, older Jews in that city referred to a nearby pre-war Jewish agricultural settlement, Freiheit. A similar settlement existed in the vicinity of Krivoi Rog, another city in Dnepropetrovsk oblast.59 Such Yiddish-language colonies existed elsewhere in the pre-war Soviet Union, some as expressions of Soviet efforts to collectivize the Jewish population in a manner that, not incidentally, would also increase the agricultural productivity of the new Soviet state, and some as projects of Agro-Joint. This important chapter of Soviet Jewish history should be recorded while some of its participants are still alive and before relevant archival material is misplaced or worse during current conditions of confusion and disorder.

127. Dozens of Jewish newspapers are published in the former Soviet Union, most on a monthly basis. They have great potential to reach tens of thousands of Jews, to be a major factor in the development of Jewish identity and a sense of Jewish community. With few exceptions, these newspapers are poorly written and composed, dependent on handouts from the Lishkat haKesher or JAFI and reprinting of lengthy chapters from books on Jewish history, antisemitism, or other topics. Various measures can be taken to improve the quality and thus the appeal of these publications, such as editorial and/or reporting workshops with the help of quality Russian-language Israeli newspapers, diaspora Jewish newspapers, schools of journalism, and private western foundations concerned with improving the post-Soviet press; translation and transmission of appropriate Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports; and, in Ukraine, strengthening of an existing Jewish press service. Workshops for business managers would also be beneficial.

128. Indigenous Jewish leaders and Jewish organizations in the successor states should be sensitized to the implications of their involvement in partisan political campaigns. It is presumptuous for American Jews to assume that their experience in such matters will translate fully into the post-Soviet milieu; nonetheless, some aspects of American and other diaspora practice in this area may be of benefit to Jewish leadership in the successor states.

129. Small Jewish population centers are scattered throughout the post-Soviet Union. Provision of services to these communities is difficult and expensive. Cost factors may preclude the establishment of day schools or, in some cases, even Sunday schools or youth groups; yet it is essential that young people in these towns be reached by Jewish organizations. With few Jewish peers for social interaction and little sense of Jewish peoplehood, the positive Jewish identification of such younger Jews is at risk. Many are likely to migrate elsewhere in search of greater opportunity; if a strong Jewish identity is developed during their childhood and adolescence, their migration is more likely to be to Israel than to a life of assimilation in a larger post-Soviet city. Energetic recruitment of such youngsters for Jewish summer camps and various youth seminars is essential.

As noted elsewhere in this report, elderly Jews constitute the majority of the Jewish population in smaller cities and towns. Addressing their needs, which are often greater than those of their counterparts in more sophisticated urban centers, is an enormous logistical challenge.

130. Most Israeli and diaspora workers in the post-Soviet successor states readily acknowledge that their collective efforts reach only ten to fifteen percent of the post-Soviet Jewish population. As Jews in Israel and the diaspora strive to raise and allocate additional millions of dollars to expand these efforts, attention must be focused on the needs of post-Soviet Jews themselves and the ability of world Jewry to respond to those needs. Although the problem of overlapping and competing agency programs may have been resolved in some areas, it still exists in others. JDC must define its own priorities within its ever-broadening agenda, including the nature of its relationship with the Lishkat haKesher. As the only mainstream Jewish organization with a mandate for and experience in welfare operations, perhaps the JDC focus in the successor states should be in addressing the needs of Jewish elderly who have few alternative resources for assistance.

Provision of additional Jewish identity-building programs for children, adolescents, and young adults would seem essential. Youth groups and summer camps may be more effective in transmitting a sense of Jewish peoplehood than formal Jewish education, the latter being an alien and discomfiting concept for many post-Soviet families long separated from Jewish tradition and wary of religious doctrine. Jewish Agency efforts in these endeavors should be supported more generously, and increased mainstream Jewish communal funding might also be sought for other agencies that have initiated worthwhile programs with promise in the post-Soviet successor states. Some of these are struggling with inadequate financial resources, such as the Masorti movement’s Ramah camps and some activities of Bnei Akiva and Ezra. In Ukraine, where aliyah is increasing, all such activities should be strongly Zionist in content so as to prepare participants for aliyah and klitah.

Adult education programs, such as ‘Jewish universities’ that reach both the new Jewish educators and communal service workers as well as lay people comfortable in an academic setting should also be supported. Scarce resources should be directed toward those institutions that have the ability to focus on Jewish studies without the distraction of non-Jewish course offerings.

Community-building will proceed at its own pace in each community as some post-Soviet Jews are better prepared than others to enter into self-governance. Similarly, twinning or sister-city relationships between a post-Soviet Jewish population center and a diaspora Jewish community will reflect the strengths and weaknesses of each partner city. Two relationships may be comparable, but not identical.

Finally, the ‘conflict’ between those Jews who remain in the post-Soviet Union and those who emigrate is overdrawn. Even the most fervent Zionists recognize that Jews will remain in the post-Soviet successor states for some time. Equally, most champions of a strong diaspora acknowledge that current instability in some areas of the former USSR and potential instability in almost all of the newly independent states suggests that aliyah may be a wise course for many post-Soviet Jews. Whether Jews stay for a decade or more or whether they leave in the near future, they should be provided with opportunities for Jewish identity-building. Jewish elderly deserve compassion and a variety of services, wherever they live. Eventually, the combined forces of emigration, assimilation, and aging of those who remain will reduce the size of the post-Soviet Jewish population in general and leave its remaining numbers advanced in years. Continuing support from outside the successor states will be necessary and should focus on the most effective means of service delivery. Certainly, more local Jews must be trained to assume positions of leadership in their own post-Soviet communities. Outside agencies, whether Israeli or diaspora in origin, must work collaboratively, each in fields of greatest competence. That most such agencies are financed directly or indirectly by a single American Jewish fundraising mechanism should encourage American Jewish leadership to pursue an institutional response that uses limited resources efficiently to assist post-Soviet Jews to live in dignity and to reclaim their Jewish heritage.


This report was prepared by Dr. Betsy Gidwitz in consultation with several other individuals who are familiar with the Jewish population centers covered in the report, the relevant agencies, and/or other applicable issues. May-July, 1994.

59.  In fact, a leader of the current Krivoi Rog Jewish community was approached earlier this year by an elderly Jew, a onetime resident of the settlement, who is now living in a town near the former collective. The visitor was searching for a tenth man for a minyan to replace another settlement veteran who had just died.

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