Betsy Gidwitx Reports
Observations On
Jewish Community Life In Eastern Ukraine

May 20 to June 1, 2003

However, the Fund also has a number of clients who require expensive medications for Parkinson’s disease or cancer. Some also need surgery or dialysis. The most common dialysis protocol for which support has been requested, said Mrs. Bogolubova, is 13 treatments each month at $1000 per month. Chemotherapy also is very expensive. Hip surgery costs $1000 to $1100.

Mrs. Bogolubova makes decisions on most grants under $50 to $60 by herself. Physicians are consulted regarding requests for expensive medical procedures, and community leaders provide guidance on some non-medical requests. The monthly budget of the Emergency Fund is between $1000 and $1150, said Mrs. Bogolubova; one surgical procedure can exhaust the entire monthly budget.

To stretch community funds farther, the Emergency Fund works with the local hesed, sometimes sharing expenses for a client’s medical care. Requests of most elderly clients are discussed with the hesed in order to ensure that the client is not “double-dipping,” i.e., requesting support from both the hesed and the Emergency Fund for the same service. The Emergency Fund does receive some illegitimate requests, responded Mrs. Bogolubova to a question, but these are not numerous and she is confident that she and her associates are able to identify such pleas and prevent fraudulent use of community funds.

In addition to support for emergencies, the Fund provides small stipends to 13 elderly people on a monthly basis. The stipends can be perceived as supplements to distressingly low pensions that do not permit recipients to live in dignity. Representatives of the Fund visit clients receiving these stipends every few months to confirm that the need for the supplement still exists and that the cash is being used appropriately.

The Emergency Fund also provides cash gifts, usually about $10 each, to some elderly Jews as holiday gifts. Different people receive the gifts on different holidays. The Fund selects the recipients from its client base. Individuals do not ask for the gifts; they are too embarrassed (им стыдно) to do so.

The Jewish day school, said Mrs. Bogolubova, provides welfare assistance to many youngsters in the school and sometimes consults with the Emergency Fund about medical needs of parents or other family needs that require broader community attention. In general, said Mrs. Bogolubova, the existence of the Emergency Fund is well-known and she receives referrals from a variety of people and organizations.

6. A new assistance project under the auspices of the Philanthropic Fund is the renovation of client apartments that have fallen into disrepair. If the apartment is located in a well-maintained building in a good neighborhood and the client is unable to arrange renovation herself, due to impoverishment and/or inability to deal with contractors, the community will provide all renovation services at no cost to the client.27 The Philanthropic Fund currently is renovating apartments for three elderly clients under this project.

Alla Borisovna Malkina is an elderly pensioner who lives alone in a standard two-room Soviet apartment located on the first floor of a building in a good location. A retired teacher of German and Russian in a local university, Ms. Malkina also speaks fluent and graceful English. She has no living relatives.

Her government pension is about $22 monthly, which is supplemented by a small stipend from the Emergency Fund. She spends much of her time engaged in research and writing about the history of Jewish agricultural settlements in the area; some of this work is done in cooperation with Yad Vashem and other Israeli institutions.

Ms. Malkina was in her bedroom when the writer arrived, the only space not yet invaded by the construction crew then busy in her living room, kitchen, and bathroom. All fixtures and appliances were being replaced. Ms. Malkina asked one of the workers to bring two chairs from the bedroom into the living room, where she and the writer conversed. She holds newspapers with articles about pre-war Jewish farming villages.


Stalindorf Lives in the Memory of the People, Album Two is the title of an album that Ms. Malkina has compiled about Jewish agricultural settlements in the Dnipropetrovsk region, such as Stalindorf, that were destroyed during the Holocaust. The settlements were established with considerable assistance from Agro-Joint. The album, which Ms. Malkina gave to the writer, includes essays, copies of newspaper articles, photos and lists of Holocaust victims, and photos of commemorations of Stalindorf and other settlements near Stalindorf.

The cover of the album is shown at left. The album contains 50 pages.

Ms. Malkina seemed content and preoccupied by her work. She was generous in her praise of Rabbi Kaminezki and the Jewish community for providing her with various forms of assistance. In a later discussion, Rabbi Kaminezki said that the community does not ask for compensation of any kind from those whose apartments are renovated. The community would be pleased if apartment owners would bequest their units to the community in their wills, but no suggestion has been made to them that they do so.

7. Yan Sidelkovsky holds several positions in the Jewish community and is recognized as an effective troubleshooter. The writer had asked him to monitor the case of Sasha Epshtein, a 15-year old local boy with an ill-fitting artificial leg who is not enrolled in any school programs.28 Sasha’s mother is dead and his father is in prison; he lives with an older brother and other relatives.

Mr. Sidelkovsky said that he sees Sasha occasionally and gives him money during these visits. However, their meetings are irregularly scheduled, in part because Sasha’s family has no telephone and communication with him is infrequent. In general terms, the family is “difficult” and no one cares about Sasha. Relationships among most members of the family are poor. Sasha has managed to find some part-time work in handicrafts, but he lacks motivation to improve his situation. It is difficult for the Jewish community, said Mr. Sidelkovsky, to focus resources on helping one person with all of Sasha’s problems, particularly when Sasha does not seem to want to help himself. Mr. Sidelkovsky, who speaks English (and Hebrew) well, concluded by saying that Sasha is “falling between the cracks” of the social service “system” that exists in the Jewish community and in the city.

Yan Sidelkovsky holds multiple positions in the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish community: coordinator of the Boston-Dnipropetrovsk kehilla project; coordinator, with his wife Tanya, of the Adopt-A-Bubbe/Adopt-A-Zayde program (see below); and leader of the Beit Baruch choir (also see below). Additionally, Mr. Sidelkovsky is called upon for various troubleshooting missions within the Jewish community.

On a brighter note, Mr. Sidelkovsky said that he is working with students in the Hillel organization to organize activities for handicapped Jewish young adults between the ages of 18 and 25. They have formed a group called Yedid (friend, Hebrew) that plans joint programs for the two populations; most of the handicapped young adults have no other socializing opportunities and no other contact with the Jewish community, said Mr. Sidelkovsky. Hillel students also are visiting with Jewish elderly and invalids in the city, under Mr. Sidelkovsky’s supervision, and collecting small sums of money for tikkun olam (Hebrew, repair of the world) undertakings. Mr. Sidelkovsky commented that Hillel focuses too much of its energy on various cerebral endeavors, such as seminars, and too little on the practical work that provides a sound foundation for an intellectual and spiritual understanding of Judaism.29 The visits with handicapped and with elderly people are a real mitzvah (good deed), said Mr. Sidelkovsky.

8. Adopt-A-Bubbe/Adopt-A-Zayde is an independent assistance program created by Dr. Judith Patkin, the Executive Director of Action for Post-Soviet Jewry in Waltham, MA. The program assists 1,340 elderly Jews in approximately 22 cities or large towns and 40 smaller towns in eastern, central, and southern Ukraine.30  According to Tanya Sidelkovskaya, who works with her husband in administering the Dnipropetrovsk-area program, as few as one to three Jews live in some of the villages reached by AAB/AAZ.

AAB/AAZ provides medical assistance and pharmaceutical goods in 12 of the 22 cities, consulting with a total of 35 volunteer physicians who are specialists in various fields. In all service areas, the program provides food parcels and clothing. It tries to cater to the needs of individuals, e.g., providing food appropriate for diabetics, specific items of clothing for people who state that these are necessary, and gardening tools and canning supplies for those with access to plots of land and a desire to cultivate crops and preserve harvested fruits and vegetables. The program also provides sewing supplies and design suggestions for individuals who wish to make Judaica items, such as challah or matza covers; the finished products then are sold in the United States, with the proceeds from such sales returned to those who crafted the items. Record-keeping is very detailed for all procedures.

27. If the building is unsuitable or the neighborhood is unattractive, the community may suggest that older persons move into Beit Baruch.
28. See the author’s Jewish Community Life in Eastern Ukraine, April 12-28, 2002, pp. 25-26. In this report, the author mistakenly referred to the boy as Misha, instead of Sasha. See also the author’s A Brief Visit to Jewish Communities in Ukraine, October 30-November 8, 2002, pp. 12-13.
29. The Hillel student group in Dnipropetrovsk is considered by most people familiar with Hillel in the post-Soviet states to be among the weaker Hillels. However, Mr. Sidelkovsky’s criticism of the Hillel concentration on intellectual activity, to the exclusion of practical work in the community, probably holds true for a number of Hillel groups in Ukraine and Russia. See a description of the Hillel group in Kharkiv, pp. 55-66.
30. The program also operates in Moldova and Belarus. However, this report deals only with the operations that are directed from its Dnipropetrovsk office.

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