Betsy Gidwitx Reports
Observations On
Jewish Community Life In Eastern Ukraine

May 20 to June 1, 2003

Sometimes board members propose major projects, said Rabbi Moskowitz. For example, one board member has suggested that the community open a trade school for Jewish boys who might be more comfortable with a job training program rather than with a traditional academic curriculum. Such a school, which might be located in the newly recovered second synagogue (see below), would offer training in carpentry, metal working, printing, and other skills. Rabbi Moskowitz commented that the board member’s proposal may be related to the fact that he needs skilled workers in a factory that he owns, but such personal motivation does not necessarily invalidate the idea.

Rabbi Moshe Moskowitz, Chief Rabbi of Kharkiv, was born in Caracas and has been in Kharkiv since 1990. He thinks that local Jews who have attained middle class status might want some donor relationship with the Jewish community; he believes that local organizations, such as the synagogue, are more attractive to them than are organizations controlled by foreigners, such as the hesed.


While speaking with the writer, Rabbi Moskowitz received word of the death of an elderly man who had worked in the synagogue. Telephone calls regarding a funeral and burial followed. Many families cannot afford proper burials, commented Rabbi Moskowitz, and many elderly live alone without any relatives at all. The Jewish community provides free burials in a section that it maintains in a larger cemetery, said Rabbi Moskowitz. It employs a small crew of individuals to clean and guard the Jewish section around the clock because cemetery supervisors will sell Jewish community plots to non-Jews if they sense even a slight level of neglect by the Jewish community.

24. The municipality returned a structure built as a synagogue to the Jewish community in February 2003. Confiscated by Soviet authorities in 1930 and used since then as a government office building, the recovered synagogue will be renovated and used mainly as a yeshiva boarding school for boys and for several community welfare services. Immediately upon receipt of the former synagogue, the community moved some yeshiva classes from the choral synagogue and a community pharmaceutical service (see below) into its premises, fearing that the municipality or commercial organizations close to the municipality might attempt to claim it if it appeared to be unused. Several rooms on the second floor were quickly turned into dormitory space for about 16 older boys.

The stucco façade of the former synagogue is painted in a now-faded shade of red. The structure at lower left is a corrugated metal garage, which probably will be torn down. The space on which it stands may be redesigned as an outdoor basketball court. The structure is centrally located and within easy walking distance from the choral synagogue.

Current plans call for the second floor to be remodeled into a yeshiva for boys, including sleeping accommodations for about 25 youngsters (in rooms for four to eight boys) and classrooms. Other boys will commute to the yeshiva from their homes in the city. The ground floor will include a prayer hall, dining room, recreational space, and a community pharmacy.

No funding currently exists for such renovations, but donors to the reconstruction of the choral synagogue were taken on escorted tours of the building when they were in the city for the reopening of the choral synagogue. It is hoped that some of them will contribute additional sums for renovation of the second synagogue building. Additionally, Rabbi Moskowitz will approach other potential funding sources that provided support for other school dormitories in Ukraine, including the Pincus Fund for Jewish Education in the Diaspora of the Jewish Agency.

25. A community pharmaceutical service was recently established by Andrei Shargorodsky, a native of Kharkiv who now lives in Philadelphia. Mr. Shargorodsky, who named the pharmacy in memory of his parents, provides $15,000 annually to Global Jewish Assistance and Relief Network, a Chabad-associated organization with headquarters in Brooklyn, which transfers the funds to Kharkiv. The pharmaceutical service currently has 497 clients, most of whom are invalids, individuals and families who attend the synagogue, and youngsters in the Chabad day school and yeshiva/machon.

Occupying a small suite of rooms in the second synagogue building, the pharmaceutical service is open all day on Sundays and on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. An attending physician examines patients and, when appropriate, refers them to specialists, such as ophthalmologists or gynecologists. She writes some prescriptions herself and accepts others from specialists. Clients receive a coupon for each prescription, which they take to a designated pharmacy (Pharmacy #51) for fulfillment. The pharmacy, which is located close to the choral synagogue, then bills the community pharmaceutical service at the end of each month.

If patients require only over-the-counter medicines, the physician dispenses these from a small supply provided by donors in Germany and other countries. Office space is modest, including an examination room and basic diagnostic equipment. Meticulous records contain information on patient diagnoses, prescriptions, and cost of medicine.

In response to a question, the attending physician said that she sees between eight and 22 patients every day. She showed the writer a notebook with letters of gratitude from clients.

26. Upon the writer’s arrival in Kharkiv, Rabbi Moshe Moskowitz, who was coordinating her schedule in the city, told her that Dani Gekkhtman, the representative of the Joint Distribution Committee in Kharkiv and the surrounding area, apparently did not want to meet with her. Mr. Gekhtman would not commit to a specific appointment, said Rabbi Moskowitz. Recalling her experience with JDC in Dnipropetrovsk,58 the writer suggested to Rabbi Moskowitz that his office cease attempting to arrange a meeting with Mr. Gekhtman. During the writer’s most recent previous visit to Kharkiv, in May 2002, Mr. Gekhtman also declined to meet with her, claiming that he was suffering from a cold.

27. Notwithstanding the refusal of Mr. Gekhtman to meet with the writer, Boris Murashkovsky, director of the Kharkiv hesed, which is operated under JDC auspices, welcomed the writer for her second visit in two years. Mr. Murashkovsky said that the current budget for hesed operations is the same as that of the previous year. JDC imposed serious budgetary reductions on the hesed in 2001-2002, but its allocation has remained stable since then. The earlier budget cuts, he said, had forced the hesed to reduce services and to pay the lowest possible salaries, he said. The employee roster remains at 320 individuals.

The hesed provides nutrition assistance to 7,000 people, overwhelmingly elderly Jews. Five dining rooms in Kyiv and three in the periphery serve 650 individuals. Others receive home-delivered meals or food parcels, or participate in the warm home program in which seniors with similar backgrounds gather one or more days each week for dinner at the home of someone in their neighborhood.

As he stated in 2002, Mr. Murashkovsky would like to open a senior housing facility for those Jewish elderly most in need of supportive services. However, no funding exists for such a program. Mr. Murashkovsky said that he is most concerned about 19 or 20 older Jews who are blind or deaf and have no relatives in the city. The patronage service (home care workers) provided through the hesed is very helpful, he said, but it cannot provide the assistance that these individuals require.

Another priority population for Mr. Murashkovsky is families in distress. He cited a number of Jewish families, perhaps 18 to 20 who are known to the hesed, who live in abject poverty, attempting to survive on $25 per month. Most such families, he said, are headed by a single parent and include two or three children, at least one of whom is an invalid or suffers from a chronic health condition, such as anemia. Often, said Mr. Murashkovsky, the families deny that any problem exists, even if a child’s ill health prevents attendance at school. The parent may accept some clothing from the hesed for the children, but usually rejects any offer of additional assistance. They are apprehensive about any changes in their lives and fearful that they or their children might be labeled incompetent or psychologically disturbed. Some also may be reluctant to identify with the Jewish community, a problem that exists among the more stable and successful Jews as well, added Mr. Murashkovsky.

The hesed, said Mr. Murashkovsky, lacks the resources to approach these families in a systematic and sensitive manner. He would like to develop a mini-hesed for children that would serve the 20 to 30 most deprived Jewish children in the city. Such a program would provide food, clothing, medical and psychological care, education, Yiddishkeit, and job training for the parents.

The hesed actually is conducting a study of some 5,000 Jewish children in the city, he said, and will develop some model programs that could be implemented to serve groups with specific needs. If JDC will provide funding, the hesed will be able to initiate these programs very quickly. However, Mr. Murashkovsky observed, no infrastructure currently exists for children with problems. Similarly, premises currently occupied by the hesed do not have suitable space for such programs.

One of the bright spots that exists in his work, said Mr. Murashkovsky, is that several hesed programs receive some assistance from other Jewish organizations in the city. For example, members of the Jewish Agency Simcha Youth Club visit isolated elderly Jews on a regular basis. The young people read to the blind, run errands for homebound individuals, and just visit with elderly Jews who have few socializing opportunities. The Jewish Agency, he continued, also arranges occasional concerts for elderly Jews who visit the hesed day center. Beit Dan, the local Jewish community center (see below), brings children in the Mazal Tov program to visit seniors in the day center. The Consulate General of Israel also provides some assistance, he said.

28. Boris Kagan, who directs Beit Dan, a Jewish community center operated under the auspices of JDC, also greeted the author warmly, recalling an earlier meeting one year previously. Beit Dan is housed in a recently renovated four-story building that has no elevator.59

58. See p. 21.
59. The facility is named after Shaike Dan, born in Romania as Yeshayahu Trachtenberg, a legendary figure in Israeli intelligence. He parachuted with others into Romania behind Nazi lines during World War II to rescue Jewish prisoners and arrange their departure to pre-state Israel. Following Israeli independence, Mr. Dan played a critical role in persuading Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu to permit Romanian Jews to emigrate to Israel.

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