Betsy Gidwitx Reports
Travel To Jewish Population Centers In Ukraine

April, May, 1996 (continued)

89. The local Jewish obshchina has a membership of about 600 people, 50 percent of whom are youth. Doubtless reflecting both cause and effect of this high proportion of youth, the obshchina offers a broad range of activities for young people. Most have a strong Zionist orientation, and community leaders report strong and productive relationships with the Jewish Agency offices in both Kiev and Lvov and with Makor, the youth services umbrella agency in Kiev.

90. A Sunday school enrolls 53 children and youth between the ages of eight and 20. They all study Hebrew, Jewish history, and Jewish tradition. A group of 23 older youth within this enrollment also studies computer technology and prepares for Na’aleh 16 psychometric exams under the guidance of a physics instructor at a local institute; the professor is one of the obshchina leaders and, through his institute, has access to a computer laboratory. The three leaders spoke with great pride of the Na’aleh 16 tutoring program, which has led to a high pass rate in the exams and significant local participation in Na’aleh 16.

91. Many local children attend Jewish summer camps, some participating in the Yad Yisroel camps and others selecting a Jewish Agency camp. The three leaders prefer the former because they are longer (i.e., three and one-half weeks vs. 12 to 14 days) and better supervised. They said that some of the Israeli counselors at the JAFI camp are very immature.

92. The obshchina sponsors holiday observances and social events for young people. They would like to start a children’s choir, but they lack the funds to pay for a choir leader and other expenses. They also lack a sufficient number of Hebrew-language textbooks. They have video cassettes on various Jewish topics, but they do not have a VCR.

93. The three leaders estimated that 50 percent of local Jews are pensioners. most of them impoverished. The obshchina tries to operate a welfare program, but they lack the resources to do so in a systematic manner. They know of 70 bedridden seniors, almost all of whom are older than 80, who need assistance. JDC does not provide any regular support, but did send food parcels for 120 people in December and 75 additional parcels just before Pesach. The latter contained matzot and other Pesach items.

94. The local economy is very depressed. All factories in the area have closed. Many people survive by selling inexpensive goods in bazaars that they purchase in Poland or Turkey. Even relatively young working-age Jews are unemployed. About 90 percent of people living in villages are unemployed.

95. The three leaders believe that almost all younger Jews will emigrate. Most of the older Jews will remain because they lack the energy to depart and/or because they do not want to leave the graves of family members.

96. In response to a question about whether local antisemitism is a problem, one of the men responded, “Bezuslovno,” (bezuslovno; absolutely, without question). However, the difficulty was not government-sponsored antisemitism; almost all anti-Jewish bigotry was based on popular Ukrainian nationalism. A local Ukrainian nationalist newspaper, which another man described as fascist, published antisemitic articles. Jewish children were often told by their Ukrainian classmates to “go home,” i.e., to go to Israel because they are not welcome in Rovno.

97. In an attempt to assimilate, some local Jewish men deliberately sought out non-Jewish women as marriage partners. They believed that a mixed marriage would at least prevent antisemitic oppression of their children. Now some of these men are trying to join the obshchina; they are purely opportunistic and expedient. Most think that being Jewish will facilitate emigration to the United States or Germany. These individuals will add nothing to the Jewish world, said one of the three men.

98. Jews living in Rovno have little contact with Jews in other countries. The three men said that they would like to establish a sister-city relationship with a Jewish community or Jewish communal institution in the United States.



Betsy Gidwitz
August 1, 1996




The writer is grateful to Jeffrey Weill of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago for his assistance in confirming specific details about the visits to Kiev and Chernigov. Some background information on Jewish population centers to the south and west of Kiev is adapted from articles in Encyclopedia Judaica. The Consulate-General of Ukraine in Chicago was helpful in providing contemporary population figures. The map of Ukraine on the following page is published by Magellan Geographix and is available through the Internet, as noted.

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