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


JDC works in its four standard fields in the area -- in Jewish education, Jewish culture, welfare services, and support of Jewish religious institutions—as well as community-building and reclamation of Jewish communal property confiscated by the Soviet regime.

In Jewish education, JDC has supplied the Jewish schools in the region with Judaica libraries, Jewish-studies textbooks, and equipment, and has helped arrange for teacher training. It has also secured specialized consulting services for schools when necessary, e.g., for the Open Jewish University in Dnepropetrovsk and the day school in Zaporozhe. It appears to be inviting a conflict with the new JAFI office in that Jan Sidelkovsky is offering Israel-related curriculum consulting from the JDC office when that responsibility is usually undertaken by the Jewish Agency; indeed, the local JAFI mission intends to open a Zionist-oriented pedagogical center in the near future. (See below.)

JDC invited fifteen youngsters to participate in the March of the Living, the program that takes high school students to Auschwitz and then to Israel. However, a number of the invitees encountered bureaucratic problems in obtaining Ukrainian passports and only six were able to complete the necessary paperwork in time to participate.33

Mr. Sidelkovsky, who is a skilled youth worker, has organized various social events for Jewish adolescents and young adults and is encouraging Jewish students to contribute volunteer service to the Jewish community. One result has been the involvement of medical students in community welfare efforts (as described below).34 JDC also sponsored a Purim disco that was attended by 500 young people.

As noted previously, JDC has been the primary sponsor of the new Association of Jewish Intellectuals of Dnepropetrovsk and has provided various institutions with Russian-language Judaica libraries. In supporting the renovation of synagogues in Dnepropetrovsk and Zaporozhe into multi-purpose synagogues/community centers, it will increase opportunities for Jewish culture.

JDC became involved involved in welfare activities in the area when Mr. Strinkovsky was visiting Dnepropetrovsk periodically from his then base in Moscow. It was during this period that he supervised the purchase of contents for and the assembly of 700 supplemental food parcels that were distributed to needy Jewish elderly in Dnepropetrovsk and surrounding towns in 1993. JDC is currently sponsoring free hot lunches for 120 Jewish seniors at the day school on alternate Sundays (with extra fresh fruit supplied so that guests can take some home with them) and is negotiating with municipal authorities for a site in the center of town that world serve as an elderly day center; Mr. Strinkovsky perceives such a facility as offering various services, such as elderly day care and rental of medical equipment. It would also be the central office of the community welfare agency. It might include a restaurant and a center for a talking books program for the vision-impaired, a service currently offered by JDC and the Jewish Braille Institute in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, and Lviv.

Betsy Gidwitz met separately with Jan Sidelkovsky and four welfare workers35 who explained the current operations of the Shaarei Chesed welfare program operating from the Dnepropetrovsk JDC office. Similar to the JDC welfare program in Kiev, the Dnepropetrovsk service has now been organized to comform with existing city districts so that services offered by the program can be coordinated with those provided by different districts. A paraprofessional is assigned to each of the eight districts in the municipality; they visit clients in their district, assess needs, and recommend the services of other workers, such as: ten ‘patronage sisters’36 (including four qualified nurses) who clean, prepare meals, and shop; seventeen volunteers who do not actually work in the residence, but visit clients twice weekly, bring food (including homecooked meals), and maintain daily contact by telephone when advisable; and/or a physician. An affiliated Physicians Council37 has ten physicians as members (including specialists in cardiology, respiratory diseases, and cancer), and can call on other physicians when necessary, including specialists in non-traditional medicine.38 The service works with four hospitals and a geriatric clinic. When they receive medicine from abroad, they usually give some of it to these institutions.

In efforts to interest young physicians to consider careers in geriatrics and to promote intergenerational bonds within the Jewish community, the Physicians Council is including three Jewish medical students in its work. One such student with whom Betsy Gidwitz spoke said that she had always been interested in gerontology and was very grateful for the opportunity to assist experienced physicians in attending the Jewish elderly. She accompanies a senior doctor on house calls twice weekly and now understands that older people need much more than medicine; loneliness may be a “more pressing problem” than the physical aspects of aging. The student intends to become a specialist in care of the aged.39

In all, the welfare service has 400 elderly Jews on its rolls. Approximately 200 of these are hungry or “on the edge” of hunger. They may be able to buy food or medicine, but are rarely able to afford both. All medicines are expensive; the cost of antibiotics is especially “astronomical.” Most of all, they need antibiotics, vitamins, insulin and other diabetes-related medicine, and medications for heart disease, hypertension, and arteriosclerosis.40 Detailed records are kept on each client, including medical history and record of medications given, family and friends in the area and abroad, clothing and shoe sizes, etc.

When Betsy Gidwitz was in the JDC office, she was called outside because “someone wants to speak with you.” The individual was Misha Burtman, a diabetic in his thirties who, upon hearing that Dr. Gidwitz was there, made a special trip to the office to thank her for medicine (specifically, Augmentin, a common topical antibiotic) brought to the city by Boston Action for Post-Soviet Jewry activists during their October 1993 visit. Application of this ointment to a serious leg infection had healed the infection and prevented amputation of his leg. Mr. Burtman later sought out Dr. Gidwitz at another site to thank her for the insulin she brought on the current trip. He was quite emotional on both occasions.

Both Mr. Sidelkovsky and the welfare workers expressed gratitude for the $500 given to their service by Action for Post-Soviet Jewry during its October 1993 visit. As they had done previously in a thank-you letter faxed to APSJ in January 1994, they enumerated the items purchased with the money (bedding, underwear, socks and stockings, slippers, fruit and cookies for one hundred people at Chanukah and Tu B’Shvat, and funeral expenses for one person who had no relatives or close friends. They emphasized that they had purchased fabric in bulk for the bedding and then cut and hemmed one-hundred individual sheets and sewed fifty pillowcases themselves in order to save money. When they presented these items to clients as gifts from Jews in Boston, some recipients cried; they found it difficult to believe that other Jews who lived so far away felt responsible for them.

JDC tries to obtain furniture and clothing from those who emigrate to Israel for distribution to other Jews in need. It also brings Russian-language Jewish newspapers and other reading material to the homebound and arranges for repair of apartments, refrigerators, etc. Birthday cards and gifts are provided as well.

JDC also provides welfare assistance when necessary to Jews who are members of the Memorial society, an organization for “those who were repressed,” i.e., individuals who were imprisoned under the Soviet regime. Many such individuals were seriously weakened by their experiences.41

In addition to providing health and home care services, the welfare group has organized various socializing opportunities for elderly clients. The twice-monthly Sunday lunches at the day school include holiday celebrations, singing and dancing, and time for visiting. JDC has also sponsored an evening gathering at the day school for Holocaust survivors, some of whom had not realized that others whom they had known in childhood had lived through the Katastrofa. The gathering featured an artistic program that was received very well by the participants. JDC provided transportation for those who needed it; one individual who requested such service is ninety years old.

When asked about his priorities for JDC in the near future, Shimon Strinkovsky listed three major capital projects. He attaches greatest importance to renovation of the recently returned synagogue in Zaporozhe “because nothing else exists there.” The Lishka day school in the city is considered problematic and there are no premises in which large numbers of Jews could gather. (Zaporozhe is discussed below.) Next on his list is renovation and upgrading of the Dnepropetrovsk synagogue summer camp into a year-round facility. His third priority is renovation of the choral synagogue in Dnepropetrovsk. Mr. Strinkovsky did not include any expansion of services among his priorities [although completion of the various capital projects would facilitate service expansion].

33. According to Jan Sidelkovsky, obtaining passports is often a ten- to twelve-week process and JDC in Dnepropetrovsk received the invitations only four to six weeks before the March of the Living. It was not clear who issued the original invitations.
34. Rabbi Kaminetzky believes that Jan Sidelkovsky is so effective in Jewish youth work that he should be doing it full-time -- under the auspices of an organization that would allow him freedom to plan and implement activities on his own initiative. He feels that Mr. Sidelkovsky was “smothered” in an earlier position at the Israel Cultural Center. Mr. Sidelkovsky is qualified to teach Hebrew and also is a skilled musician (both as a vocalist and a pianist).
35. Present were Sasha Grabova, who was clearly the group leader, Olga Nemirovskaya, and Drs. Sima Miller and Ludmilla Romanenko. Ms. Grabova and Ms. Nemirovskaya were among those with whom a Boston delegation met in October 1993.
36. The Russian word patronazh means ‘home visiting’; a ‘patronage sister’ can be a visiting nurse (the Russian word for nurse is medsestra) or a paraprofessional ‘health visitor’ without certification in nursing.
37. In Russian, Lechebnaya konsultatsionnaya kommisiona.
38. Non-traditional medicine, e.g., the use of herbs in treatment, is fairly widely accepted in most of the post-Soviet successor states as a valid medical response.
39. The Physicians Council assigns students to semi-retired physicians who are no longer practicing full-time so that the physicians have time for mentoring.

The medical student commented that fewer young people want to become physicians now because conditions of practice are so difficult. It is almost impossible to find necessary equipment and medicines, and it is equally difficult for a student to complete medical school with the stipends provided by the state.

40. Betsy Gidwitz brought in 120 bottles of insulin (contributed by Burton Orland, a Boston-area pharmacist), the receipt of which was contested by several physicians. Cardizem, a common heart medication in the United States, and diabetes-testing equipment (second-hand) and supplies also generated particular excitement.
41Memorial should not be confused with Memory (Pamyat), the strongly antisemitic Russian nationalist organization.

Prev | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | Next

Click here to view/download a PDF version of this report.
To view/print the above file you must have the free Adobe Acrobat reader. Click here to download the reader.
  Copyright 2007 Baecore Group