Betsy Gidwitx Reports



Forty-nine WUPJ congregations exist in Ukraine, all of which are appropriately registered with relevant state authorities. Twenty-eight of these operate a full range of activities, said Rabbi Dukhovny, and the remainder offer selected programs. WUPJ subsidizes only two of these congregations, Hatikvah in Kyiv and the Progressive congregation in Yevpatoriya.[100] Seven congregations have their own physical premises, usually pre-war synagogues that were restored to the Jewish community after being used for other purposes in past decades. Rabbi Dukhovny observed that possession of physical premises often brings Jewish businessmen into the community because they see an actual structure that they can develop and maintain. Congregational twinning programs with congregations in the West usually are key components in the success of various local congregations, noted Rabbi Dukhovny. The additional funds that these relationships generate often enable local groups to offer programs that they could not otherwise support. About 20 WUPJ congregations in western countries assist Ukrainian congregations in this manner, Rabbi Dukhovny said; however, some such relationships are more active than others.


Odesa, said Rabbi Dukhovny, probably will be the next WUPJ congregation to be assigned a rabbi. The Odesa WUPJ congregation is very active, led by a five-person board, four of whose members are returnees from Israel. In response to a question, Rabbi Dukhovny stated that three Russian-speaking Reform/Progressive rabbinical students are enrolled at the Abraham Geiger College in Potsdam and one is studying at Leo Baeck Rabbinic Training Seminary in London.[101]


Notwithstanding continuing efforts by some Orthodox rabbis to delegitimize Progressive/Reform Judaism, Rabbi Dukhovny believes that liberal Judaism is increasingly accepted as an authentic expression of the Jewish faith. He noted that he has been asked to lead community services at Babi Yar, lead Jewish education programs for employees of the Joint Distribution Committee, and teach in Limmud.[102]


The JDC connection is evident, Rabbi Dukhovny continued, in the growing activism of a number of hesed directors across Ukraine in local WUPJ congregations. In fact, said Rabbi Dukhovny, five hesed directors are chairmen of Progressive congregations. In some cases, Rabbi Dukhovny noted, WUPJ congregations with foreign sponsors are able to recruit these supporters to contribute to hesed welfare programs as well.


In response to a question, Rabbi Dukhovny said that WUPJ in Ukraine will hold a two-session summer camp in Crimea, each encampment enrolling about 100 youngsters between the ages of 13 and 17 for a session of eight to ten days. Both sessions have waiting lists, stated Rabbi Dukhovny. A significant operating subsidy is provided by the Dutch Jewish Humanitarian Fund (Joods Humanitair Fonds),[103] but families are asked to pay $62 per camper per session. Rabbi Dukhovny noted that efforts are made to develop leadership among the older campers and, indeed, some youngsters between the ages of 15 and 17 actually lead services at camp and in their home congregations.


Rabby Dukhovny stated that he is pleased with the accomplishments of the Reform/Progressive movement in Ukraine. At age 60, he continued, he is beginning to think about retirement, but has not yet determined his plans for the future.




72. The Masorti/Conservative movement maintains a center within the premises of the Ukrainian Vaad in Kyiv. Although no rabbi currently is in residence at the center, that situation is expected to change in early 2012 when a Russian-speaking student currently completing studies at the Israeli Masorti seminary in Jerusalem is ordained as a rabbi and then moves to Kyiv. In the meantime, the Kyiv Masorti center operates a number of programs led by individuals trained in Masorti teaching seminars and other programs.


Vladimir Sapiro is the lead Hebrew teacher in a Masorti ulpan offering four different levels of instruction as well as a conversation group. In total, about 60 adults are enrolled in these classes, said Mr. Sapiro. Finding existing Hebrew-language textbooks unsuitable for Russian-speakers, Mr. Sapiro is currently writing his own series of texts. To date, he has completed four volumes and is working on volumes five and six. The series is accompanied by a compact disc so that the student can hear native Hebrew spoken well, said Mr. Sapiro. Each textbook, he continued, also includes information about Torah, Jewish history, Jewish literature, and related subjects.



Vladimir Sapiro, left, is the lead Hebrew teacher in the Masorti kehilla in Kyiv and also the author of a textbook series for Hebrew-language students.


Photo: the writer.


In addition to offering Hebrew classes, the Masorti center operates a family Sunday school that is attended by about 50 families, celebrates all Jewish holidays, and organizes Shabbat observances about once monthly. Many participants, continued Mr. Sapiro, are individuals who are just discovering their Jewish heritage. More activities are held in warmer weather, Mr. Sapiro stated, because Masorti groups then are able to hold events outdoors, escaping the crowded confines of the Vaad. The atmosphere at all of these events usually is very good, very comfortable, said Mr. Sapiro.


It is anticipated, said Mr. Sapiro, that the movement will move to larger premises when the rabbi arrives. Although the Vaad offices are new and clean, they are not optimally organized for Masorti activities and space is very limited.


Masorti operates a summer camp, Ramah Yachad, in the Carpathian Mountains. Prior to sessions for youngsters and for family groups, Mr. Sapiro and staff from Midreshet Yerushalayim, the Russian-language division of the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem, will lead a seminar for teachers in Masorti Sunday schools and ulpans.


Madrichim (leaders) for Ramah Yachad and for Masorti youth clubs are trained in a special Masorti leadership development program, Mr. Sapiro said. Most are selected from campers at Ramah Yachad.


The writer observed 12 to 15 university students and older high school pupils in a session of a Masorti leadership development course. In the photo at right, participants were learning ice-breaker activities, such as describing an oddly-shaped piece of metal and sug-gesting possible uses for it. They also lined up according to shoe size and explored other ways of introducing people to each other and initiating con-versations.


Photo: the writer.


[100] Yevpatoriya hosts one of three WUPJ congregations in Crimea. Collectively, these congregations are served by Rabbi Mikhail Kapustin, the only other WUPJ rabbi in Ukraine.

[101] Because the government of the Federal Republic of Germany pays for training of clergy, WUPJ now is directing most of its rabbinic students outside English-speaking countries or Israel to the Potsdam program.

[102] Rabbi Dukhovny expressed anger about an interview with Rabbi Bleich that appeared in a Ukrainian magazine in which the latter said that Reform Judaism is not authentic Judaism. See “Янки с украинскими корнями,” Weekly UA, #12 (April 2010).

[103] See footnote 87.

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