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


32. A large and well-equipped State Jewish Library and Museum is located in the center of town. Directed by a staff of fourteen, headed by Anna Yakovlevna Batzmanova, this facility has won national recognition as the best library in the country; with several rooms and a small theater, it serves as a major focal point for the Jewish population. Its daily operations are supported by state funding. JDC allocations have covered extensive renovations, equipment (such as a computer for cataloging books and tapes and a television/VCR), and a recent seminar at the building for Jewish librarians from throughout Moldova and Ukraine.

33. Other Jewish cultural institutions include the Lilach folk dance troupe, a Jewish musical theater group, the Nash golos (Our Voice) newspaper, and Jewish-content radio and television programs.

34. The Moldovan Vaad, led by Semyon Shochet and Semyon Weisman, is an active national Jewish governing body that works closely with the various local organizations and with outside funding groups (principally JDC) in planning and budgeting. Mr. Weisman represents Moldovan Jewry in various international Jewish organizations.

35. The Department of Judaica, Jewish History, and Jewish Literature at Kishinev State University began to offer university-level courses in Bible, Hebrew, Yiddish, Jewish literature, general Jewish history, and history of Bessarabian Jewry during the 1992-93 academic year. Seven students, not all of them Jewish, are currently enrolled in a five-year undergraduate degree course; in response to questions, the students said that they hoped to pursue careers in teaching, translation, and research. Faculty members readily acknowledged a lack of qualified faculty, an inadequate teaching environment, and insufficient funding for desired travel to Israel and other countries. They hope that Israeli sources will provide instructors for subjects in which Moldovans lack competence.

JDC has donated textbooks, resource material, a Russian-language Judaica library, and audio materials to the program; ten cassette players with headphones from this stock appear to have been diverted to general university use.

36. The recently-established Jewish Department of the Moldovan Academy of Sciences, under the direction of Professor Isyaslav Ilyich Levit, has begun research on various Jewish topics, such as the role of Jews in Bessarabian history. The Academy prepared materials for the recent commemoration of the ninetieth anniversary of the 1903 Kishinev pogrom. In collaboration with JDC, Professor Levit edited a Russian-language book on the tragedy.8

37. The Joint Distribution Committee, which initially served Moldova from its Odessa office, recently assigned a separate representative to the country. Vera Krizhak, an Israeli woman born in the former Soviet Union, supervises an extensive program supporting welfare (a seminar for Jewish communal workers in various Jewish population centers, distribution of 700 supplemental food parcels to needy elderly; provision of welfare-related equipment and supplies); education (educational material for both day schools; financial support for children attending Jewish summer camps; support to the Judaic studies program at Kishinev State University); religion (supply of ritual items, siddurim, and other materials to synagogues; support for holiday celebrations); and culture ( sponsorship of a seminar for librarians; support of Jewish music and folk dance groups; collaboration in publishing ventures).

38. The JDC group met with Moshe Brillon, director of the Jewish Agency for Israel office in Moldova. In common with many other JAFI emissaries in the Soviet successor states, Mr. Brillon was born in the former USSR and came to Israel as a child. He views his major responsibility as presenting an accurate vision of Israel to Moldavian Jewry, especially Moldavian Jewish youth, so as to encourage aliyah. Thirty-eight adolescents from Moldova are in Israel now on the Aliyah 16 program (Aliyah HaNoar; high school in Israel), but Mr. Brillon is concerned about future participation in this program because the educational system has deteriorated to such an extent in Moldova that many youngsters find it difficult to meet Aliyah 16 entrance requirements; only about thirty percent of the applicants successfully completed necessary examinations. JAFI is considering offering special courses to help youngsters upgrade their skills. The kibbutz ulpan program for people between the ages of 18 and 35 is proving very popular. He is also promoting the First Home in the Homeland program, which settles families on kibbutzim for ulpanim and initial absorption.

JAFI operates its own ulpan in Kishinev, enrolling 400 individuals from age four through seniors. The Agency also sponsors a successful youth club and will operate a summer camp for six hundred youngsters between the ages of fourteen and eighteen.9 Mr. Brillon reported that 2,170 individuals emigrated to Israel from Moldova in 1993; he said that 185 others settled in the United States and 61 went to Germany. He anticipates a significant reduction in emigration in 1994 because: (1) recent peaceful elections have encouraged hope for democracy and stability in Moldova; (2) proposed legislation requiring fluency in Moldovan for a large number of positions has been delayed;10 and (3) the crisis over Pridneistroviya, although not resolved, has eased. Mr. Brillon said that his office works well with the Israel Information Center operated by the Lishkat haKesher in Kishinev.

39. The Lishkat haKesher, represented by Della Kleymen, operates an Israel Information Center in Kishinev. We did not meet with anyone from this office.

40. As evidence of the good relations between Moldovan Jewry and the government of Moldova, JDC arranged for the JDC delegation to meet with Mircha Snegur, the President of Moldova. Mr. Snegur’s opening statement stressed that Moldovan state policy requires the observance of human rights. Because thirty-five percent of Moldovan citizens are of non-Moldovan ethnic background, he cannot agree with the philosophy of Moldovan nationalists. Sixteen different ethnic groups have established their own institutions in the country; among the most recent of these, he said, are Ukrainian and Bulgarian schools and an Armenian church. Jews have the right to study Jewish languages. He himself helped to open a synagogue. He recognized that the Jewish community had certain problems, such as finding adequate space for Jewish schools and preparing people for careers in Judaic fields.11

John Colman of Chicago, an officer of JDC and the senior member of the delegation, responded on behalf of JDC. Mr. Colman said that the delegation was very favorably impressed with the progress of Moldova as an independent country. He admired the courage of Mr. Snegur and others in protecting the health and welfare of Jews and other ethnic groups in the country; he asked that Mr. Snegur and his government consider JDC a partner in protecting the welfare of Jewish citizens in Moldova. Mr. Colman then made several specific requests on behalf of the Jewish community, each of which had been discussed earlier with government officials. First, JDC would like to develop a prewar Jewish hospital not yet returned to the Jewish community into a residential facility for elderly Jews unable to live in dignity independently. Second, JDC would like to be recognized as an American voluntary organization entitled to official status in Moldova.

Third, as part of its eightieth anniversary celebrations, JDC would like to erect a plaque in Moldova—as JDC is doing in fifty other countries in which it is active. After wishing peace and prosperity to the Moldovan people, Mr. Colman then presented a mounted shofar (ram’s horn) to President Snegur; Mr. Colman explained that the shofar is used to call the Jewish people to “a life of justice and holiness” at the beginning of each new year.

President Snegur closed the session by commenting that the Moldovan government would be pleased to work in partnership with JDC and that JDC need not be concerned about its specific requests. The entire session was videotaped; excerpts appeared on local television that evening.


41. Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, is a city of three million people, of whom Ukrainians constitute seventy-three percent and Russians nineteen percent. Perhaps 100,000 to 110,000 Jews live in Kiev, the second largest Jewish population center in the former Soviet Union (after Moscow).

Exclusionary laws and persistent persecution severely limited the number of Jews living in Kiev throughout the tsarist period. Nonetheless, exemptions accorded extremely wealthy families (such as the Brodskys, well-known sugar merchants) or exceptional professionals (such as the ophthalmologist Max Emanuel Mandelstamm13 ) and widespread evasion of residential statutes by others led to a Jewish population of more than 81,000 by 1913. Refugees from World War I and from pogroms devastating smaller centers boosted the population to 175,000 (twenty percent of the total city census) by 1939.14 Under official Soviet sponsorship, Yiddish culture flourished in Kiev from 1917 to the mid-1930s; most Jewish institutions were liquidated during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s and their leaders sent into exile or murdered.

The majority of Jews living in Kiev were slaughtered during the Holocaust, a large number of them at Babi Yar on September 29-30, 1941, barely one week after the city fell to the German army. Babi Yar subsequently became a symbol of Soviet antisemitism as Soviet authorities refused repeated pleas to construct a monument at the site. When a memorial was finally constructed in 1976 it minimized the fate of Jews. A specifically Jewish memorial was built only in 1991 (in observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the massacre) at a site some distance from the original structure, but adjacent to the ravine in which the extermination took place.

8. Levit, I. I., ed. Kishinevskiy pogrom [of] 1903. Kishinev: LIGA, 1993.
9. The number of sessions in this camp in 1994, as in other JAFI summer camps in the post-Soviet successor states, will be curtailed because a strike of Israeli university faculty this winter has forced extension of the Israeli academic year into mid-summer, thus limiting the availability of Israeli university students as counselors.
10. In Moldova, as in other former Soviet republics, most Jews are much more competent in Russian than in other languages. Imposition of laws or policies favoring native speakers of another language has been a major concern for local Jews.
11. Mr. Snegur may have been referring to a request from the Moldovan Academy of Sciences for government funding to send individuals to Israel for advanced training in Judaic studies. See section #36 above.
12. Information on Kiev appearing in this section derives from the 1994 JDC mission and from other sources. The writer visited Kiev twice in 1993 and once in 1992.
13. Dr. Mandelstamm was also a leading political Zionist.
14Encyclopedia Judaica, s.v. “Kiev.”

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