Betsy Gidwitx Reports



Additionally, the Donetsk community receives funding to send 15 to 20 youngsters to Camp Ramah Yachad (the Masorti movement camp in western Ukraine), said Mr. Ivashenko. Camp Ramah Yachad is very important to developing a sense of Masorti community, continued Mr. Ivashenko. Attendees remain in contact with each other between camp sessions, he said, exchanging ideas and building a sense of identity and connection as Conservative Jews. Additionally, Ramah plays an important role in preparing Ukrainian Jews for aliyah.


In response to a question, Mr. Ivashenko said that he probably will remain in Ukraine and is not considering aliyah for the foreseeable future. He enjoys his work, combining responsibilities at the university, the Jewish Agency, and with the Masorti movement. However, he continued, he would like to spend a semester or longer in study at the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem, the central educational institution of Masorti Judaism in Israel.


The primary source of Mr. Ivashenko’s formal Jewish education to date is the Open University of Israel, which offers numerous distance-learning courses in the Russian language. Mr. Ivashenko estimated that he has completed 23 or 24 such courses, focusing on Jewish history; he has earned a B.A. with Honors from the Open University, having written two major papers in this endeavor.[71] Mr. Ivashenko learned Hebrew through Jewish Agency ulpans; his knowledge of Jewish tradition is based on Open University courses, Jewish identity seminars attached to Jewish Agency ulpans, and teacher seminars at Camp Ramah Yachad.



Aleksandr Ivashenko is the leader of the Masorti (Conservative Jewish) presence in Donetsk.


Photo: the writer.



Asked about the greatest material needs of Masorti in Donetsk, Mr. Ivashenko said that they need additional salary support for teachers, especially individuals capable of teaching Jewish subjects to adults. Further, he continued, they would like to add English-language instruction to Sunday school classes because its inclusion would make the program much more appealing. They also need to purchase songbooks, a computer, and a printer.


In response to a question about participation in activities sponsored by Chabad, Mr. Ivashenko said that he had attended several holiday celebrations at Chabad. However, he continued, the Chabad approach to Judaism was not attractive to him.




National and International Jewish Organizations


50. The Jewish Agency for Israel program in Donetsk is managed from the JAFI Kharkiv office. The director of the regional program, Elena Faingold, travels to Donetsk once monthly and was there at the time of the writer’s visit to the city.[72] Mrs. Faingold stated that the region covers five areas: Kharkiv (estimated Jewish population 14,000), Poltava (2,000), and Sumy (2,000) in northeastern Ukraine, and Donetsk (18,000) and Luhansk (4,500) in far eastern Ukraine. Other cities in the territory include Mariupol (2,500), Kremenchuk (2,000), Kramatorsk (700), and Artemivsk (500).[73] The Jewish population in a number of these smaller population centers is rapidly disappearing, said Mrs. Faingold.


Mrs. Faingold stated that her current JAFI assignment in eastern Ukraine holds great personal meaning for her. She herself was born in Donetsk; she had married a non-Jewish local man and then divorced him. At the age of 37, she and their daughter went to Israel on aliyah. She subsequently married Mr. Faingold, a former JDC emissary, whom she met in Israel. She has renewed contact with family and acquaintances who remain in Donetsk, she said.[74]


A native of Donetsk, Elena Faingold enjoys her posting in eastern Ukraine.


Photo: the writer.




The Donetsk JAFI office, said Ms. Faingold, employs no Israelis. Financial constraints forced closure of its youth club, she continued, and further budgetary issues will compel JAFI to move to smaller premises in the near future. A local Jew serves as aliyah coordinator, and Mr. Ivashenko is the lead Hebrew teacher. In all, JAFI operates six Hebrew ulpans in the city and additional ulpans in the regional centers of Artemivsk, Kramatorsk, and Mariupol. Each of these ulpans includes Jewish identity programming. Fees are required for all ulpan courses now, stated Ms. Faingold; on the one hand, she commented, required payments mean that students are more serious about studying; on the other hand, she said, she knows that some potential aliyah candidates cannot afford even modest fees for ulpan instruction and thus receive no instruction in Hebrew before arriving in Israel.

Aliyah from the region jumped 40 percent in 2010 over 2009, said. Mrs. Faingold. At least 419 from the area are currently enrolled in pre-aliyah programs, she continued. In response to a question, Mrs. Faingold said that the primary factor generating aliyah is the ongoing bleak economy. Many factories have closed, throwing not only working class people into the ranks of the unemployed, but also affecting highly qualified engineers who are “now reduced to selling shmattes [Yiddish; old clothing, rags] in street markets.” Local Jews are concerned about the future of their children, worry about increased street crime, are leery of increased criminal infiltration of business, and bemoan the declining level of education. Corruption is rife in all levels of education, she said; even elementary school teachers are demanding bribes to ensure high marks for children. The legal system is corrupt at every level. Deceit and fraud affect almost all aspects of daily life. Further, the level of medical care is abysmal; she is concerned about her own health because she knows of no local physicians with whom to consult if a medical problem arises.


Most olim, Mrs. Faingold said, are young families with children. Further, she noted, new immigrants are in one of two groups, those who are well-prepared for the move and those who go “blindly,” without preparation. Almost all in the first group live in large cities, particularly Donetsk and Kharkiv, and take advantage of JAFI seminars in these cities that address such matters as the Israel education system, Israeli banking and insurance, the Israeli housing market, purchasing a car in Israel, and other practical issues. However, she continued, people from smaller population centers find it difficult to attend such seminars in the larger cities. JAFI maintains no Israeli presence in these smaller cities and towns, no people who can provide consultation. Of course, she added, even some olim from larger cities elect to bypass the orientation meetings, claiming that relatives already in Israel will advise them, but often the relatives are themselves ill-informed and struggling as new immigrants. Once they arrive in Israel, Mrs. Faingold said, it is readily apparent which olim have participated in pre-aliyah orientation seminars and which ones have not done so. She considers aliyah preparation to be the single largest problem in the aliyah process, she noted. The mechanics of providing aliyah orientation for people from smaller towns, Mrs. Faingold said, can be addressed by organizing annual two- or three-day aliyah preparation seminars at regional resorts; however, JAFI has no funds for such conferences, she stated.


About 100 Jewish young adults from the region participated in Taglit tours under JAFI auspices in 2010, said Mrs. Faingold in response to a question. More needs to be done, she continued, in the area of Taglit follow-up programs, but such programs require resources beyond the JAFI budget. About 50 percent of Taglit participants enroll in Masa courses.


[71] Jewish history is a major area of concentration within the Russian-language offerings of the Open University. Mr. Ivashenko’s principal papers were on The Holocaust in Donetsk and A Comparison of the Times of the Destruction of the First Temple and the Bar Kokhba Revolt.

[72] See pages 62-65 for an account of the writer’s visit to the JAFI Kharkiv office.

[73] Many other observers believe that the Jewish population of Kharkiv is somewhat larger than that of Donetsk.

[74] Mrs. Faingold travels between Kharkiv and Donetsk by train, a somewhat uncomfortable seven-hour trip.

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