Betsy Gidwitx Reports
Observations On
Jewish Community Life In Eastern Ukraine

May 20 to June 1, 2003

Private entrepreneurs opened a large bakery producing shmurah matza,16  which employs 100 people on a seasonal basis in Dnipropetrovsk. The factory exported matza to the United States during its first year of operation in 2003. A local meat-packing concern that has produced kosher chicken for several years is now producing kosher salami as well. Rabbi Kaminezki plans to add additional products to the local kosher food industry, an endeavor that holds potential for increasing community revenue (from the kosher certification process).

The need for an expanded resource base to support the growing community infrastructure has become evident in the past year as the fundraising campaign for the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish community philanthropic organization, the Philanthropic Fund of the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish Community (Благотворительный фонд Днепропетровского еврейского общины) has seen its donor base and income shrink by 20 percent. Business problems have caused nine former donors to withhold contributions, although Rabbi Kaminezki hopes that several may recover within the next few months and resume their support of the community.17 Only one new contributor has come forward during the past year, said Rabbi Kaminezki. One response to the financial shortfall has been the cancellation of the Chabad summer camp for boys; the girls camp will be held for three weeks in July at a site on the Sea of Azov, said Rabbi Kaminezki, but the community can no longer afford to operate both camps.18

At the same time that major donors to the community Philanthropic Fund have been affected by business problems, continued Rabbi Kaminezki, recipients of community support, particularly elderly and chronically ill individuals, have a greater need for such support. Inflation is increasing again, causing great difficulties for those dependent on fixed incomes. In an effort to help such people, the Fund is calling on the community Emergency Fund (Фонд Экстренной помощи) to offer more assistance. Additionally, said Rabbi Kaminezki, the Emergency Fund is providing substantial aid to several people with cancer or other serious illnesses who need expensive surgery, medicines, or other care. On one recent day, continued Rabbi Kaminezki, Elena Grigorievna Bogolubova, the administrator of the Emergency Fund, distributed 1900 hryvna (about $500) in aid, a large amount of money in Ukraine.19

Rabbi Kaminezki is optimistic that some financial assistance will be provided soon by Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston (the Boston Jewish federation), with which the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish community has a sister-city relationship. It is likely, he said, that CJP will begin to allocate funds to several community operations, perhaps as much as $50,000 annually to Beit Baruch and smaller sums to other programs. Additionally, several individuals from Boston have made personal gifts to the Dnipropetrovsk community.

Rabbi Kaminezki and Rabbi Yonah Pruss, an American Chabad rabbi living in London, established a new organization, the CIS Development Fund, in the year 2000. Rabbi Pruss raises money in England for the CIS Development Fund, focusing on donors who prefer to help smaller Jewish population centers. Working with World Jewish Relief,20 the CIS Development Fund has provided support to Chabad endeavors in Zaporizhya and Krivyy Rig, among other Ukrainian Jewish communities. Rabbi Kaminezki has been an important facilitator for these projects.21 WJR also has provided some support to Beit Baruch.

Through the Global Jewish Assistance and Relief Network,22 the community received 5000 tons of United States Department of Agriculture surplus food for distribution to needy individuals and social service institutions in the Dnipropetrovsk region. Ninety percent of the recipients were not Jewish. The Jewish community successfully stored and delivered the food to all of the intended recipients in a manner consistent with USDA requirements, said Rabbi Kaminezki. Several community institutions were beneficiaries of the distribution.

When projects currently underway are completed and his financial situation is stabilized, it is likely, said Rabbi Kaminezki, that he will consider converting the community summer camp located in nearby Novomoskovsk into a year-round shabbaton retreat site and conference center. Such facilities could be used by various groups in the community and rented out to other organizations, such as the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee for their own conferences. However, such an undertaking is far in the future.23

Commenting on a recent visit to Dnipropetrovsk by Vadym Rabynovych, the controversial and self-appointed head of United Jewish Community of Ukraine, Rabbi Kaminezki said that Mr. Rabynovych came to the city on his own and requested an appointment with Rabbi Kaminezki. Although Mr. Rabynovych does “some good things,” said Rabbi Kaminezki, his activity in the Jewish community also is risky for the community; thus, Rabbi Kaminezki does not intend to become involved with him in any way.24

4. Vyecheslav “Slavik” Brez is the Executive Director (Исполнительный директор) of the Philanthropic Fund of the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish Community (Благотворительный фонд Днепропетровского еврейского общины). Mr. Brez spoke with the writer about the extensive financial commitments of the Fund, raising issues related to the day school, the preschool now under construction, the assisted living center, and the inability of the community to provide summer camp experiences for both boys and girls in 2003.25 Notwithstanding these problems, said Mr. Brez, he is optimistic about the future. The Ukrainian government, he observed, had just enacted a flat 13 percent tax rate. The new tax system should reduce corruption, which is endemic in Ukraine, and should lead to new economic development.

In the meantime, continued Mr. Brez, the Jewish community must deal with the consequences of an almost non-existent state welfare system. Poor Jews have no sources of assistance other than the Jewish community. Medical care, in particular, is increasingly expensive, placing a major burden on the Philanthropic Fund as its directors believe that they are obligated to help less fortunate Jews obtain treatment for chronic health conditions and serious illnesses.

The various Jewish community programs, Mr. Brez believes, set an example for other Ukrainians in terms of social responsibility. Local officials and various civic groups have visited Beit Baruch and have expressed amazement that the Jewish community feels obligated to provide less fortunate Jews with a facility and programs as fine as those at Beit Baruch. If other groups in society would do as much as Jews have done for other Jews, all of Ukraine would be transformed, declared Mr. Brez. He continued that he is very proud that Jews take responsibility for each other.

Mr. Brez, whose office is located in the old synagogue building, noted that the community employs an experienced engineer to manage all community property and also has engaged a purchasing manager. The offices of these individuals are located close to the office of Mr. Brez to encourage maximum efficiency in community operations.

5. Elena Grigorievna Bogolubova, mother of Gennady Bogolubov, Chairman of the Board of the Philanthropic Fund of the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish Community (Благотворительный фонд Днепропетровского еврейского общины) directs the Emergency Fund (Фонд Экстренной помощи) of the larger organization. Although she has no specific training for her position, Mrs. Bogolubova administers the Emergency Fund in a professional manner from an office across the hall from that of Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki.

Mrs. Bogolubova said that the number of clients served by the Emergency Fund is approximately 500, a growth of about 20 percent in just six months.26 In response to a question whether the increase was due to an increase in real need or a growth in the number of people who had heard about the Fund, Mrs. Bogolubova said that both factors probably play a role. An increase in need is obvious, she said, citing erosion in the value of pensions due to inflation, soaring medical costs, and a growing number of parents seeking assistance for children with developmental disabilities.


Elena Bogolubova maintains office hours three days each week. Clients come to see her, often without appointments, in an office across the hall from that of Rabbi Kaminezki. Mrs. Bogolubova approves many simple requests on the spot and gives the client a voucher, which the client takes to Rabbi Kaminezki’s secretary for cash payment. Record-keeping is meticulous.

Real unemployment in Dnipropetrovsk exceeds 30 percent, said Mrs. Bogolubova. Many educated people are working as vendors in street markets, and recent university graduates have a difficult time finding work.

The majority of Emergency Fund clients are elderly. Often they need only over-the-counter medicines, dental work, shoes, or telephone service. The cost of assistance in many of these cases ranges from about $15 to as much as $60.

16. Matzah is unleavened bread that is central to the Pesach seder ritual. Shmurah matzah is hand-baked from grain (usually wheat) that is carefully watched from the time of harvest to assure that contact with moisture is avoided (and thus that no fermentation occurs).
17. It is customary in Dnipropetrovsk for donors to contribute set sums on a monthly schedule. Together, the nine donors had been providing $7,000 to $8,000 per month.
18. Few children pay any camp fees at all. The Jewish Agency provides a modest subsidy that covers only a portion of expenses.
19. See pp. 12-13.
20. World Jewish Relief is a British organization similar to the U.S.-based American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. It works with JDC on some projects and focuses its post-Soviet activity on Ukraine.
21.  See pp. 69-75 and 75-77 for information on Zaporizhya and Krivyy Rig respectively.
22.  GJARN is a Chabad-associated welfare organization based in New York. In 2002, it abandoned construction of a partially completed ambitious medical center in Dnipropetrovsk after it proved unable to raise the funds necessary to finish the project. Many local Jews express embarrassment over the failure of a Jewish organization to fulfill a commitment to complete a highly visible and publicized project.
23.  The camp is no longer used on a regular basis. Its small size and poorly developed infrastructure renders it unsuitable for organized summer camping.
24.  Mr. Rabynovych is on the “watch list” of the United States and also is forbidden entry to Great Britain, Austria, and several other countries. He is accused of involvement in organized crime, narcotics trafficking, sale of weapons to rogue states, contract murder, and other crimes. Mr. Rabynovych founded United Jewish Community of Ukraine, through which he provides major support to Rabbi Moshe Reuven Asman (independent Chabad) of the famed Brodsky synagogue in Kyiv and smaller subsidies to a number of Jewish communities throughout Ukraine.
25.  Most of these issues are discussed below in sections related to the particular institutions.
26.  See the writer’s A Brief Visit to Jewish Communities in Ukraine, October 30 – November 8, 2002, p. 12.

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