Betsy Gidwitx Reports
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Observations On
Jewish Community Life In Eastern Ukraine

May 20 to June 1, 2003
(continued)


Rabbi Glick also supervises a food parcel program in which 75 families receive food parcels once or twice each month. Twenty-five of these families have children enrolled in the day school. Thirty-eight additional families also are Jewish, but have elected to send their children to other, non-Jewish schools. Also, at the request of city welfare authorities, the food parcel program includes 12 non-Jewish families who need such assistance.

Tsivos Hashem, the Chabad youth organization, also operates a social welfare program that serves local street children, the majority of whom are not Jewish. A small bus cruises a specific route in the city two evenings each week, seeking out homeless children. The youngsters live in abandoned buildings, sewers, heating conduits, and similar places. Some have run away from state institutions. Some steal or beg to stay alive, others manage to find occasional work as messengers, porters, or cleaners.



The Tsivos Hashem bus was donated by supporters in Great Neck, NY. At the top of the bus above the windows are the words Bus of Kindness and Mercy. The bottom panel depicts various services offered to children; writing over the rear wheel says that the services are offered in memory of children who died in the Holocaust.

 

The bus makes three stops each evening, always at the same places. Street children know the route and are waiting for the bus. Youngsters enter the bus and sit on bench seats that are arranged along the inside walls of the vehicle. They are given hot food, as well as additional food in plastic bags during each visit; on some evenings, they also are given clothing, shoes, or other items.

The bus is staffed by a driver, whose salary is paid by Tsivos Hashem, and two professionals -- usually a psychologist or social service worker and a lawyer. In all, five professionals staff the program, attempting to help their young clients enroll in residential schools or training programs, find jobs, or obtain necessary medical care. If a Jewish youngster is found, the Jewish community tries to absorb him or her in the community residences for children. The professionals are employed by the city.

Between 40 and 60 youngsters visit the bus each of the two evenings it is on the route. Seventy percent of these street children are boys, most between eight and 16 years old. Some youngsters who have left homes in the city will return to their former homes to pick up a younger sibling and bring him or her to the bus for food and clothing, said Rabbi Glick. Many of the youngsters exude an odor of glue, which they sniff on the streets.

Rabbi Glick said that municipal authorities are trying much harder now to rehabilitate children in distress than was the case five years ago. They are much more professional. Facilities and programs remain inadequate, but conditions improve every year. Staff in children’s residential centers no longer steal food from the children, said Rabbi Glick.

Although some city officials initially were suspicious of Tsivos Hashem motives in providing this service, they now have embraced the program and work with Tsivos Hashem. The project succeeds, said Rabbi Glick, only because Tsivos Hashem and municipal authorities work together.

When the bus is not used in the street children service project, it is used by youngsters in the boys’ and girls’ residences. The bus takes them to swimming lessons and other activities.

16. The All-Ukraine Research and Educational Center, known as Tkuma (Hebrew, Renaissance or Rebirth), is a nationally certified center for research and education about the Holocaust. The major focus of the Center is on the Holocaust in eastern Ukraine, but its work also covers other areas in Ukraine and in eastern Europe. The center sponsors research on the Holocaust, prepares teaching methodology and materials, publishes an academic journal and a bulletin, and brings together research scholars and others for conferences on the Shoah. It is concerned with the Holocaust itself and with contemporary antisemitism.

 

Holocaust Studies is published once annually by Tkumah. The first issue, published in 2002, is 195 pages in length and includes 14 Russian-language articles by scholars from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Israel on various topics related to the Holocaust and to contemporary antisemitism. Brief summaries of each article appear in English.

Tkumah is supported by the Philanthropic Fund of the Jewish Community of Dnipropetrovsk, the Joint Distribution Committee, and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany. It is considered the most advanced institution of its kind in Ukraine, in part because of its own strengths and in part due to issues impeding the development of a similar institution in Kyiv, the nation’s capital. In Kyiv, the dispute over development of a Holocaust research center at Babi Yar and fractiousness among various individuals studying the Holocaust have seriously harmed Kyiv-based Holocaust research and education.46

The Philanthropic Fund of the Jewish Community of Dnipropetrovsk has secured a commitment of $1.5 million from one of its local major donors toward the construction of a significant structure to be known as the Tkuma Holocaust Museum, Education, and Research Center, which will be located adjacent to the Golden Rose Choral Synagogue. The building, which will include a wing extending in back of the synagogue and the Jewish Community Center, will be three stories in height and will include exhibition halls, an auditorium, library, children’s section, classrooms, and workspace for researchers and other staff. Construction of the facility will begin as soon as the Joint Distribution Committee and the Claims Conference come forward with the additional $1 million necessary to complete the project.

An artist’s rendering shows the planned Tkuma Holocaust Museum, Education, and Research Center next to the Golden Rose Choral Synagogue. The JCC is in back of the synagogue.

 


The writer spoke with Igor Schupak, Director of Tkuma, in his office in the six-room apartment currently housing the organization. Mr. Schupak outlined the most recent seminars sponsored by Tkuma. These include one entitled The Second International Scholars Conference on the Holocaust in Ukraine: History and Context, which was held in October 2002 and attracted 200 participants from several different countries, including Germany and the United States, and another entitled The First International Academic Conference on Holocaust Issues in Ukraine, which was held in December 2002 with 150 historians, philosophers, and writers. The second conference featured a very active pedagogical section that included many teachers and communal workers from the region. In March 2003, Tkuma sponsored two workshops for secondary school history teachers, each attracting 25 participants. In May 2003, Tkuma co-sponsored a seminar in Kyiv with the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences; the subject of the seminar was the history of Jews in Ukraine before World War II. Several highly respected historians participated, including several associated with Ukrainian nationalism.

Mr. Schupak said that Tkuma maintains very good relations with a number of universities and institutions, including the Academy of Sciences and the Ministry of Education in Ukraine, and Bar-Ilan University, Hebrew University, and Yad Vashem in Israel. Tkuma also works with local Holocaust research professionals in various Ukrainian cities, including Kharkiv and Zaporizhya. Additionally, Tkuma has met with Bulgarians, Greeks, and Armenians, all of whom have issues with Turkey. Interaction with Poland, said Mr. Schupak, has not been fruitful because Poles are consumed by their own interpretation of the Holocaust and World War II.

Together with Felix Levitas of International Solomon University in Kyiv, Mr. Schupak is writing a high school textbook on the Holocaust. Mr. Schupak is the author of a five-page section on the Holocaust in a common Ukrainian history textbook used by pupils in the eleventh grade.

 

 

Igor Schupak, who is a native of nearby Zaporizhya, believes that many Ukrainian specialists are as competent in conducting research on the Holocaust as are their better recognized counterparts in other countries. Unfortunately, he continued, few local scholars speak or write English well so their work does not receive the attention that it deserves.

 

 


17. Igor Romanov is Director of the regional office of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities (Объединение юдейских религиозных общин), the Chabad religious organization in Ukraine. Twenty such offices exist in Ukraine, each representing a region in which a Chabad rabbi works. The Dnipropetrovsk region includes Dnipropetrovsk, Kirovohrad, and Cherkasy oblasts.47

The role of the regional office is to reach out to Jews in small towns that do not have resident rabbis. The largest Jewish population in any of these towns is about 3,000, said Mr. Romanov. Chabad operates seders for small town residents at Pesach, sponsors seminars (often in the form of trips to places of Jewish interest), organizes Birthright trips to Israel for young adults, and arranges attendance at Chabad summer camps for children.

 



46. See pp. 5-6 of this report.
47. Inclusion of Cherkasy oblast in this region is anomalous. Because it shares a border with Kyiv oblast, most organizations service it from their Kyiv offices.

 
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