Betsy Gidwitx Reports
Travel To Jewish Population Centers In Ukraine

April, May, 1996 (continued)

(b) Computer education. The history of efforts to initiate a computer-education program in the day school has been relatively long and painful. Hopes have been raised and dashed on several occasions. Initial interest expressed by a Canadian donor with Dnepropetrovsk roots in funding a computer education program failed to yield practical results (although much was learned about computer education as proposals were developed, in collaboration with ORT, for the would-be donor). As it became apparent that the Canadian gift would not be forthcoming, Rabbi Kaminezki secured a proposal from a local Jewish computer dealer to install a computer classroom (12 486 pupil workstations and one teacher workstation connected by a network) for $15,000. In addition to the low price, a major attraction was inclusion of a 3-year warranty. Rabbi Kaminezki was advised that a fully functional system, such as that specified in the ORT-assisted proposal for the potential Canadian donor, could not be obtained for that cost. Nonetheless, eager for a school computer program, he pursued the offer and eventually received a gift of $15,000 for the system from a Boston donor.

The system, which was installed in early 1996, proved unusable. The server and network are incompatible. The network itself is outmoded. The pupil workstations are “shells,” lacking the individual hard drives and CD-ROM drives that were specified in the ORT-assisted proposal. The dealer has proved unresponsive to suggestions that the shortcomings be addressed. An American friend of the school who was involved in developing the original ORT-assisted proposal arranged for a ORT technician to evaluate the system in an onsite visit in late June. The technician subsequently presented a list of additions and changes that will cost an additional $8,000 to $10,000. Funding has been secured for ORT to purchase and install the new components by the start of the new school year in September 1996.

Although the issue of initial hardware and related equipment appears to have been resolved, questions remain about the capacity of the school to implement a comprehensive computer education program. Local teachers are capable of teaching computer skills in computer laboratory conditions; whether they are also able to integrate the use of computers in teaching various classroom subjects (such as Judaica, Hebrew and English languages, mathematics, etc.) is a much larger question. It is possible that the Bar-Ilan project, if implemented, may be expanded to include assistance in this area. Additional hardware will also be required if a comprehensive computer education system is to be implemented.10

c. Welfare needs of pupils. Although the school has always assisted children from impoverished homes, the number of pupils requiring support has increased as the Ukrainian economy continues to deteriorate.11 The parents of many youngsters are employed in establishments that are three months or more delinquent in paying salaries. The school is now serving three meals daily to many students whose families cannot afford to feed them at home.12 The school is also providing clothing and footwear to some children. As economic strains increase, family instability also multiplies. Alternative care and housing has been arranged by the school for pupils unable to remain in conventional family units.

The cost of maintaining the meals program alone is about $75,000 annually. Another $25,000 is required for clothing and childcare arrangements.

3. A traditional heder enrolling 10 boys ages 3 to 9, the sons of Rabbi Kaminezki’s associates, has opened in a section of a local nursery school building. The facilities include two classrooms, a kosher kitchen, and related areas. The curriculum emphasizes religious studies, offering minimal education in secular subjects.

4. The michlala or women’s seminary opened in 1995 with a capacity enrollment of 80 young women whose ages range from 15 into early 20s. They are offered two courses of study, a two-year program for those who have completed high school and a four-year program for those who have finished ninth grade. Both courses aim to train teachers for Jewish pre-schools and lower elementary grades in Jewish day schools. The current facility includes dormitory space and attracts young women from other cities in Ukraine and elsewhere. The sole source of funding for the michlala is Or Avner.13 Beginning in autumn 1996, a second building will be available for classrooms, thus enabling the institution to dedicate the initial structure entirely to dormitory use and increase its enrollment to 150.

The michlala is accredited by Ukrainian education authorities and is developing ties with Machon Gold, a Jerusalem religious college for women, and other Israeli institutions.

5. The soup kitchen at the synagogue has operated in extremely confined quarters. Rabbi Kaminezki is now enlarging the kitchen and dining room so that the number of elderly served daily can be increased from 80 to about 350. He hopes to be able to offer clients a choice of several entrees “like in a restaurant so that they feel more dignified.” Pledges of financial support have been secured from several local businessmen. Some funding may also be forthcoming from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

6. The Jewish Council (Yevreisky soviet), a multifunctional local organization, has recently moved to larger quarters in a theater complex. Its chairman is Boris Pessin, a local businessman. Mr. Pessin and four other Jewish businessmen, including three who are members of the City Council, are its major Dnepropetrovsk supporters. The organization serves about 1,000 Jewish elderly in a welfare program fully coordinated with JDC and with Rabbi Kaminezki. In addition to traditional home visits and provision of food parcels, the Soviet also offers financial and legal advice without fees. Medical consultations and a subsidized pharmacy service are also available.

Another functional area of the Jewish Council is monitoring local antisemitism. Mr. Pessin reported that antisemitic activity had decreased since the previous year. He noted that the Council has the full cooperation of the mayor of the city in addressing those antisemitic incidents that do occur. Ukrainian nationalists are of marginal significance in the city. Some local communists are much more antagonistic toward Jews; one communist agitator proclaimed that, if the communists return to power, “Jewish blood will flow [again] just like in World War II.”

Mr. Pessin expressed doubts about future prospects for the Jewish community. He now believes that young people, including his own daughter who has applied for Na’aleh 16, should emigrate to Israel. He praised the work of Reuven Margolis, the director of the Sochnut office in Dnepropetrovsk.

7. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (Joint, JDC) is one of several organizations that uses Dnepropetrovsk as a regional hub, working in the city itself and reaching out from it to serve smaller Jewish population centers in Zaporozhe (Zaporizhzhya), Krivoi Rog (Kryvyy Rih), Dneprodzerzhinsk, and other cities. The JDC director in Dnepropetrovsk is Shimon Strinkovsky, an Israeli of Russian origin.

Perhaps the most visible of current JDC programs is a senior adult center that offers extensive welfare assistance as well as cultural programs to Jewish elderly. JDC is in the final stages of renovating a larger building that will serve as a community center. This facility will permit expansion of services to Jewish seniors, programs for other population groups, and operation of an institution to train paraprofessional welfare and other communal workers for the entire region.14 The director of the training institute is Jan Sidelkovsky, a highly respected local man.

(Expansion of services to Jewish elderly under JDC auspices is being funded in part by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Inc., a program established to coordinate material reparations paid by Germany to Jewish survivors. The Conference has designated JDC to assist in monitoring and supervision of Conference-supported programs in the post-Soviet successor states.)15

Already functioning in one section of the building in late April was a youth club operated by Tsivos Hashem, the youth movement of Chabad. Diaspora young men affiliated with Chabad administer the program, which attempts to reach out to Jewish youngsters, especially those currently uninvolved in any other Jewish initiative; over time, it is hoped that these young people may be drawn into Jewish education activities. Table tennis, billiards, board games, and various electronic games (such as Nintendo) dominate their program, which attracts participation of adolescents and pre-adolescents. Conspicuously absent are creative pursuits, which would require more sophisticated management.

8. The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI; Sochnut) also manages its regional operations from a large center in Dnepropetrovsk. It pursues an extensive program of activities designed to encourage immigration to Israel (aliyah) by local Jews. The rate of departures for Israel remains high, about 250 each month from the region served by the office. Most go by air, utilizing a new air route between Dnepropetrovsk and Israel, but some travel on the Good News Travels bus16 to Odessa (Odesa), where they board ships for the Israeli port of Haifa. All concerned acknowledge the role of the troubled local economy in encouraging aliyah.

The director of JAFI operations in the Dnepropetrovsk area is Reuven Margolis, who is highly regarded in the region. (He is returning to Israel in late summer 1996.) Major activities include: ulpans (Hebrew language schools) enrolling 400 adults in Dnepropetrovsk and 20 in Krivoi Rog; a pedagogical center and training courses for the teaching of Hebrew; recruitment of high school students for Naa’leh 16 and maintaining contact with parents of these youngsters;17 a youth club; seminars for university students; community-wide observances of Israeli Independence Day and other commemorative events; seminars and special programs for individuals and families considering aliyah; and operation of a summer camp attracting 800 youngsters from age 12 to age 17 in several sessions.

10. The school already possesses significant software in various subject areas.
11.  Conditions in Dnepropetrovsk are especially harsh as the local economy is based on heavy industry, much of which is outmoded.
12.  Facing mounting economic pressure on the national level, the Ukrainian government has reduced school lunch subsidies. It has never paid for other meals.
13.  Or Avner funds a similar but much smaller institution in Moscow, which is intended to prepare teachers for Jewish schools in Russia.
14. The training institute is a branch of the main post-Soviet JDC institute of this genre, the St. Petersburg-based Institute for Communal and Welfare Workers, which trains paraprofessional personnel in social work, administration and management, community-building, and Judaism.
15. JDC has received funds from the Claims Conference to implement similar programs in two other Ukrainian cities (Kiev and Kharkov), in two Russian cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg), and in the Belarussian capital of Minsk.
16. The Good News Travels program is operated from several Ukrainian cities by a Scandinavian Christian group that, according to JAFI and several rabbis who have studied their activities, does not engage in proselytizing among Jews. Bus routes go to Odessa for transfer to a ship and to Kiev for transfer to El Al flights. In some areas, the project is known as “Exobus.”
17. Na’aleh 16 is a high school program in Israel intended to attract youngsters aged 15 to 17 for study and absorption as immigrants. Their parents are expected to follow them to Israel within the next several years.

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