Betsy Gidwitx Reports
Travel To Jewish Population Centers In Ukraine

April, May, 1996 (continued)

Mr. Margolis expects aliyah to decline somewhat in the near future due to depletion of the aliyah pool through emigration, some contraction of JAFI activities in response to budgetary constraints, and possible pressure from local authorities who oppose the departure of so many educated individuals. Although Ukraine has not attempted to revoke JAFI credentials or force the closure of local JAFI offices, as has been the case in Russia, Ukrainian officials have indicated displeasure at the extent of emigration. Ukrainian security police visited the JAFI office in late April to complain about the Na’aleh 16 program in particular.

9. No visit was made to the local Israel Cultural Center, operated by the Lishkat Hakesher.18  It also offers Hebrew classes and various youth activities. The Israeli staff of the Center are perceived by others in the community as confrontational, uncooperative, and intolerant toward religious groups.


9. Kharkov (Kharkiv) is located to the north of Dnepropetrovsk, about a three to four hour drive. The writer visited the city for five days in 1995, but was able to spend only 24 hours in Kharkov on this trip. The shortage of time limited the number of possible interviews and site visits.

10. The area of the choral synagogue seems little changed from a visit one year previously. Piles of bricks and other construction materials stand in the synagogue yard. The large choral synagogue remains divided, part of the ground floor used by the Chabad movement as a synagogue and office space, and part of the upper floor occupied by Eduard Khodos, ostensibly as a Reform temple.19 Few, if any, religious/communal activities occur on the upper floor; rather, Mr. Kodos has moved into the facility and uses it as his residence. The two-storey sanctuary remains locked and unused, a sort of no-man’s-land in the dispute between Chabad and Mr. Khodos over the synagogue. Mr. Khodos had planned to use the construction materials for remodeling of the synagogue.

Adding to the disorder of the synagogue yard is an unfinished adjacent school building, intended by Chabad to serve as a day school. In response to budgetary pressures, the city administration withdrew promised financial support for its construction. Rabbi Moshe Moskowitz, the Chief Rabbi of Kharkov, also acknowledges that attempting to build an Orthodox day school immediately next door to a disputed synagogue may have been unnecessarily provocative. The school project has been abandoned.

11. Notwithstanding the continuing division of the synagogue and occupation of its upper floor by Eduard Khodos, Rabbi Moskowitz finds Khodos somewhat less troublesome to the Jewish community now than previously. According to Rabbi Moskowitz, Khodos is directing his antagonism toward two different enemies -- the Soros Foundation, which is now operating in the city, and the United States. In spring of this year, Khodos burned an American flag on television during time that he purchases in order to present his views to a broad audience. (The flag-burning been much commented on in the city, including in the local press. It has met with strong disapproval and has further diminished Khodos’ credibility as a would-be leader.) Khodos also has been active among Ukrainian nationalists, who find participation by a Jew useful to them.

12. The Kharkov Jewish day school operated by Chabad currently enrolls more than 400 pupils. Grades 5 through 11 remain on one floor of a public school. (The other floors are occupied by a conventional city school.) Three preschool classes and three primary grades are located in a separate building designed for preschool use.20 Efforts to obtain more satisfactory premises for middle and upper school grades have been unsuccessful.

13. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations (New York) continues to operate a multi-faceted program in Kharkov that focuses on Jewish adolescents and young adults. It is directed by Rabbi Shlomo Assraf, an Israeli, who spends 10 to 12 days each month in Kharkov and the remainder with his family in Israel. Six Jewish educators (two couples and two young adults) from abroad remain in Kharkov on a residential basis.

A four-year modern Orthodox high school enrolled 85 youngsters in September 1995. (Ten students were boarders from various towns in eastern Ukraine.) By late April 1996, about 25 pupils had emigrated; 90 percent went on aliyah to Israel, nine percent went to the United States, and one went to Australia. The school made connections for the youngsters with appropriate day schools in their new cities and will continue to monitor their progress in new settings. The Kharkov school is successfully recruiting new students, including boarders, of high quality for the 1996-97 school year. The secular studies portion of the school curriculum enjoys an excellent reputation.

An Orthodox Union youth center occupies three floors of a building in the center of the city. A fourth floor will be purchased next year. The center sponsors shabbatonim every week for as many as 100 adolescents; the youngsters attend religious services, eat three Shabbat meals, and participate in a broad range of other Shabbat activities. Many youth spend Friday nights at the center, sleeping in make-shift beds.

Other activities at the center include a Sunday school for 18 children ages six to thirteen, a university program (Tanakh, Rambam, Jewish history, and Jewish law) attended by 25-30 students during the late afternoon and all day Sunday, and various small classes. Although the major focus of the program is clearly on youth, the center also hosts a twice-weekly program for about 50 elderly Jews that includes both an educational component and a hot meal. The building has a small computer center. It also includes dormitory accommodations (being expanded to 20 beds for boys and 20 for girls) for youngsters attending the high school, which is located at some distance from the center.
The Orthodox Union program sponsors a summer camp that attracts 200 youngsters in each of several sessions. A special program is conducted at the camp for university students.

14. Rabbi Assraf reported that the local political situation is more difficult than in previous years. City officials frequently lodge petty complaints against the center and/or the day school. A local newspaper has criticized programs that encourage adolescents to go to Israel, charging that the Israelis recruit only the very smartest young people. However, the religious department of the oblast has been helpful.

15. Rabbi Assraf and Rabbi Moskowitz both complained about the activities of the local Israel Cultural Center (Lishkat Hakesher), citing its arrogance and anti-religious bias. Although the Lishka supplies Hebrew teachers to some day schools in Ukraine and elsewhere, it does not assign them to religious day schools. Neither rabbi referred to the activities of the local Jewish Agency office, except to say that it was more active than the Lishka and that it was helpful in finding appropriate Israeli programs, including Na’aleh 16, for adolescents and young adults. Time constraints did not permit visits to either of these offices or to the local representative of the Joint Distribution Committee.

16. Christian missionaries, including groups focusing on Jews, are very active in the city. In general, municipal authorities support Rabbis Assraf and Moskowitz in exposing these groups and restricting their activities, but the ignorance of the majority of local Jews about even the most basic tenets of Judaism make them very vulnerable to overtures by well-funded foreign groups offering free concerts and other benefits.21


The writer spent one week in Kiev (Kiyyiv), including four days with a leadership mission of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee that was in the Ukrainian capital at the same time. Arriving in Kiev with the JDC group was Jeffrey Weill, the professional staff member of the Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Chicago; Mr. Weill is responsible for the JCRC portfolio on post-Soviet Jewry, including the Chicago Jewish community aspects of the Chicago-Kiev sister-city relationship. The writer and Mr. Weill participated fully in the four-day JDC Kiev program and remained in Kiev after the JDC group went to another city. The meetings described below with the Jewish Agency, Vasyl Hazhaman and Mr. Novik, and with Eric Rubin were private sessions after the departure of the JDC tour. The writer held several meetings with Rabbi Yaakov Bleich before and after the JDC visit described below; Mr. Weill participated in one of these discussions, and others were scheduled after Mr. Weill returned to Chicago.

17. The JDC group went straight from the airport to Babi Yar, the site of the massacre of 80,000 Jews in 1941 by German occupation forces. The writer was still en route from Dnepropetrovsk to Kiev at this time and thus was not present at the Holocaust site for this observance, which participants later described as appropriate.

18. The writer has visited the Israel Cultural Center in Dnepropetrovsk and spoken with its director on four previous visits to the city.
19.  Mr. Khodos is not associated with the World Union for Progressive Judaism or with any other Jewish organization.
20.  The school system in Ukraine does not include a fourth grade.
21.  For an account of the efforts of Hear O Israel Ministries to attract Jews in Kharkov, see Debra Nussbaum Cohen, “Chabad Enlists Ukrainians to Halt Missionary Festival,” JTA Daily News Bulletin, 74:98 (May 24, 1996), p.3. Rabbi Moskowitz enlisted the support of local government officials and news media to prevent the group from holding a three-day messianic festival in the city.
22. Readers should refer to previous reports of the writer for general information about Kiev and the Kiev Jewish population.

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