Betsy Gidwitx Reports
Observations On
Jewish Community Life In Eastern Ukraine

May 20 to June 1, 2003

49. The new Jewish community building should provide substantial relief for clients of the hesed and the community center, both of which are located currently in inadequate premises. Hesed Mikhail is located in a basement suite of rooms accessible only by means of a steep staircase. JDC installed sturdy handrails and new lighting in the staircase, but the suite is dark and cramped.

The hesed currently serves 3,000 clients in Zaporizhya and 23 points in the periphery. It operates six dining halls with a total capacity of 300 clients. The synagogue kitchen prepares home-delivered meals for 130 homebound clients; 1,100 individuals receive produce monthly, and 93 receive food parcels twice monthly. Two hundred fifty individuals in the city receive patronage services (cleaning, cooking, errand-running, etc.), as do 50 elderly Jews in the periphery. Winter relief services (coal, gas balloons, warm clothing) are extended to 70 elderly Jews in small villages. The hesed also sponsors eight warm homes, of which three are located in the periphery; most warm homes have 15 participants and operate twice monthly. An SOS service performs repairs on client apartments and appliances, does laundry, and manages other tasks. A day center in the hesed consists of one small room in which clients gather for meals, socializing, Jewish activities, crafts, and hair care. Each of six day center groups consists of about 20 people who meet two to three times each month. The hesed also distributes medical implements (such as walkers and wheelchairs) and a limited amount of free medicine. A volunteer lawyer helps hesed clients with legal matters.

Hesed Mikhail sponsors several clubs for seniors, including one that offers special services to 70 to 80 survivors of Nazi ghettoes and concentration camps. It also published a monthly newspaper, Голос хэседа (Voice of the Hesed).

Although the majority of its programs are geared to elderly Jews, the hesed also offers activities to young adult invalids and to children with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and mental retardation. None of the children is enrolled in school, said a senior hesed staff member, because the schools have rejected (отказывали) them. The hesed is unable to provide these individuals with a formal education, but does offer psychological assistance and socializing opportunities.

Older adults and most young adult invalids manage to climb up and down the steep stairs. Hesed staff carry handicapped children to and from their activities.

50. The Jewish Agency for Israel maintains a small representation in Zaporizhya. As is the case in all small Jewish population centers, the director of JAFI operations in Zaporizhya is a local individual who has received training in various JAFI seminars. The writer met with Alexander Mitnick, the director, in newly renovated JAFI premises that were opened in November 2002. These premises include one large and one small ulpan classroom, a large club room used by three different youth groups (see below) at different times, a small computer classroom with seven workstations, and several staff offices. The premises are modern and pleasant.

Mr. Mitnick said that 340 individuals made aliyah from Zaporizhya in 2002, a sharp decline from the more than 600 who emigrated to Israel in 2001. He expected a further decline in 2003. Several reasons account for the decline, he said. First, the aliyah pool has diminished; so many people have emigrated to Israel in the past, stated Mr. Mitnick, that the pool of eligible candidates has been reduced. Second, it is difficult now to find work in Israel; local Jews have heard from their relatives already in Israel that Israel is experiencing economic problems and that many people are unemployed. Third, said Mr. Mitnick, the intifada is discouraging some individuals from fulfilling aliyah plans. Mr. Mitnick believes that many local Jews are just waiting for conditions in Israel to improve before they go. For now, he continued, they are undecided.

The Zaporizhya JAFI center offers a variety of Hebrew classes, each meeting twice weekly in the late afternoon or early evening and on Sunday. Ten to 12 people are in each class. Four local individuals, all of whom have been trained in JAFI seminars, teach Hebrew; one of these teachers also teaches at the Chabad day school. Additionally, a fifth local person teaches the classes on Jewish tradition that now are part of every ulpan course; this teacher is on the staff of Gymnasia Alef. Additionally, two groups of adults are studying to upgrade their computer skills.

About 20 pre-teen children participate in a children’s club that meets on Sundays. These youngsters come to the center with their parents, who study Hebrew in the ulpan at the same time. A club for teenagers attracts 25 youngsters for Shabbat services on Friday evenings and for educational and recreational activities on Sundays. A student group attracts 20 young people on a regular basis and 90 to 100 for holiday celebrations.

JAFI is planning to operate an eight-day day camp during the 2003 summer for 20 children between the ages of eight and 11. The day camp will include computer classes and boat trips on the Dnipr River. About 60 older youngsters and 20 students were expected to attend JAFI overnight camps in the Crimea that are organized by the large JAFI office in Dnipropetrovsk. Some family groups also would attend these camps, said Mr. Mitnick.

JAFI in Zaporizhya enjoys excellent relationships with Rabbi Nochum Ehrentroi, said Mr. Mitnick. Many cooperative activities are held with the synagogue, including joint celebrations of all holidays.

Krivyy Rih (Krivoi Rog, Krivyy Rig)

51. Although the Ukrainian government strongly encourages the Ukrainianization of all Ukrainian place names, the Russian name of Krivoi Rog continues to be more commonly used than is Krivyy Rih, the Ukrainian equivalent. However, some seem to have settled on Krivyy Rig as a compromise. The city was founded in the 17th century as a Cossack village, but expanded rapidly in the late 19th century following discovery and exploitation of high-grade iron ore deposits in the area. Krivyy Rig stretches some 60 kilometers (38 miles) in length, connecting numerous mining sites, many of them now inactive. Production of iron and steel, chemicals, and engineering equipment dominate its economic base. Krivyy Rig is located approximately 136 kilometers (85 miles) southwest of Dnipropetrovsk. Its general population is about 715,000.

52. The Jewish population of the city is estimated by local Jews to be between 12,000 and 15,000, a range that almost certainly is too high. Many others think that a figure of 7,000 to 8,000 Jews is more likely. The extreme linear nature of Krivyy Rig has impeded development of a sense of community among local Jews.

Rabbi Liron Edri and his wife Ziva, Israelis associated with Chabad, arrived in the city in late summer of 2001. They are now providing responsible leadership in a Jewish population center long dependent on an abrasive local individual unable to work collaboratively with others.

Rabbi Liron Edri says that his first priority is expanding and improving the Jewish school in the city. Second, he would like to construct a real synagogue. His third priority is the development of a sports and health center.

(Photo: by the writer in 2002)


53. Consistent with his priorities, Rabbi Edri opened a Jewish day school shortly after his arrival in Krivyy Rig. Notwithstanding the fact that the school opened in the middle of the school year (February 2002), 35 youngsters enrolled in grades one through seven and 16 enrolled in a preschool program. The 2003-2003 roster was 88 pupils in grades one through 10, and 23 in the preschool. Both the preschool and regular school are accommodated in a former city preschool building that lacks facilities for science classes, computer instruction, sports, and other activities critical to contemporary education. Considering this structure only a temporary home for the school, Rabbi Edri has recently obtained new property that will be developed into a community campus that includes the school, a synagogue, and other premises.

54. In speaking with a large number of Jews in the city, Rabbi Edri determined that the Jewish population is concentrated in three specific areas of this territorially extended municipality. Perhaps 40 percent of Krivyy Rig Jews, most of them professionals, live in one particular district, and another 20 to 25 percent of local Jews, most of them working class, live in another region contiguous to the larger concentration. Therefore, Rabbi Edri said, he has purchased property in the area with the largest Jewish population and also is close to the second-largest Jewish concentration.

The property is a large wooded area in which stands a former preschool that closed five years ago. The school facility includes three rectangular buildings parallel to each other. The three structures are connected at one end. Rabbi Edri will renovate two of the buildings into premises for a modern gymnasia that includes laboratories for physics, chemistry, biology, and computer science. He understands that local Jews want a high-quality general education for their children, and he is engaging experienced consultants to help plan a first-rate school. The third building, he said, will become a dormitory accommodating 20 to 25 boys from the city and region. The third building also will contain space for recreational activities. With the assistance of foreign supporters, Rabbi Edri is now raising funds for the renovation project; he expects that the reconstruction will be completed by the beginning of the 2004-2005 school year.

The property is sufficiently large to accommodate a fourth building, which will be developed as a synagogue center. This structure will include a large prayer hall, a community center, a library, and various community offices.

His third priority, a sports and health center, will not be accomplished in the near future, acknowledged Rabbi Edri. However, he would like to build a structure with a swimming pool that would be used for sports and therapeutic purposes.

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