Betsy Gidwitx Reports



Ms. Shakhar stated that the Jewish Agency trains madrichim (leaders) for its summer camps and youth clubs. It has operated special training sessions for art students and counselors in other subjects.


Another youth-oriented program of the Jewish Agency, continued Ms. Shakhar, is assistance to local Jewish day schools in informal Jewish education. JAFI staff go to schools to lead programs about Israel or other Jewish subjects according to the requests of the schools for activities related to particular holidays or other topics for specific age groups.


JAFI continues to offer Sunday school classes in its own building with both separate and joint programs for children and their parents. It also operates a two-year Bar/Bat Mitzvah program for youngsters attending JAFI camps, an art program for teenagers, and ulpans. It is the coordinating agency in Ukraine for the Open University of Israel, which offers 15 to 20 Russian-language distance-learning courses in Jewish history, Jewish and Israeli literature, Bible and other Jewish texts, and Israeli government. JAFI also sponsors community celebrations on Israeli holidays, sometimes in collaborative efforts with other groups.



81. Amir Ben-Tzvi is the new director of Joint Distribution Committee operations in central and western Ukraine, having assumed these responsibilities after several years in a similar position in Dnipropetrovsk. Mr. Ben-Tzvi stated that, historically, Joint had focused disproportionately on welfare services in Kyiv, assigning far fewer resources to Jewish renewal than it usually does in major cities.


The JDC welfare caseload in the Kyiv area includes 12,000 individuals. The budget for services to elderly adults is increasing, said Mr. Ben-Tzvi, because the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (Claims Conference) is increasing allocations to Nazi victims, i.e., those who resided in an area of Nazi occupation during World War II, for a period of three years, after which it is anticipated that Claims Conference funds will drop precipitously. The major beneficiaries of enhanced Claims Conference support are eligible seniors who require homecare; homecare services will be expanded significantly with the receipt of additional funds. Concurrently, continued Mr. Ben-Tzvi, it is likely that budgetary resources for food and medicine will drop considerably. Further, no increased funding from other sources is foreseen for Jewish elderly who are ineligible for Claims Conference support.


The much maligned Kyiv hesed building remains open, Mr. Ben-Tzvi stated, and continues providing various services to both elderly and child clients of JDC. The dining service ended several years previously, and certain other JDC hesed-based programs also have ceased or been curtailed in some manner. The building itself is in bad condition and cannot be renovated. Even if renovation would be possible, Mr. Ben-Tzvi said, the poor location of the structure – at the crest of a small hill and distant from public transportation lines – argues against redevelopment at that site. Obviously, purchase of a new site and development of a new structure – one that might be designated for 25 percent hesed use and 75 percent Jewish community/cultural center use – would be extremely expensive. In addition to the standard property and construction costs, continued Mr. Ben-Tzvi, corruption in Kyiv related to building projects is extraordinary and would be very problematic for Joint for both economic and moral reasons.


Amir Ben-Tzvi is now director of JDC operations in Kyiv and central/western Ukraine after a successful term in a comparable position in Dnipropetrovsk.


Photo: the writer.



Mr. Ben-Tzvi would like to increase Jewish renewal programming at Joint in Kyiv, in areas engaging youth and families. He is seeking financial support for such activities by eliminating or reducing JDC allocations to certain local groups, such as Aish Hatorah and the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies. Mr. Ben-Tzvi noted that Joint sponsors the Jewish Service Corps program, which selects American Jewish young adults for service positions abroad. Two JSC volunteers currently are working in Kyiv (see below); among their responsibilities is providing assistance to Moishe House.[116]


Regarding the general economy, Mr. Ben-Tzvi estimated annual inflation at 15 to 20 percent. The cost of utilities has doubled in the past year, he said. New tax laws, Mr. Ben-Tzvi continued, are forcing the closure of small and medium-size businesses, unless their owners are willing to enter the black economy and try to survive without paying taxes. “Black” businesses, said Mr. Ben-Tzvi, will not do business with the hesed because the hesed is “white,” that is, it reports all of its financial transactions.



82. The Jewish Service Corps is a recently-initiated program of the Joint Distribution Committee in which young American Jewish adults with university degrees engage in year-long paid service work related to JDC overseas programs. Most placements are in Israel or in diaspora Jewish communities, but some opportunities also exist in developing countries in which JDC conducts non-sectarian humanitarian projects. JDC covers travel and housing expenses, insurance, a monthly stipend for living expenses, and a year-end bonus.


The writer spoke with Aryeh and Stephanie Pelcovits, who arrived in September 2010 as the first JSC Fellows to serve in Ukraine. They are recent graduates of New York University and modern Orthodox in Jewish religious orientation. In discussing their mission, Ms. Pelcovits referred to their pioneer status by saying that they were “filling a niche that did not exist”. More seriously, they concurred that their major responsibility is to engage young Jews between the ages of 18 and 30 in informal Jewish settings.




Stephanie and Aryeh Pelcovits, left, were JDC Jewish Service Corps fellows in Kyiv in 2010-2011.



Photo: the writer.




By early April, they had hosted over 60 different young people at Shabbat dinners, eight individuals at a time, in their apartment. They meet people through circulating at different synagogues, small minyans that meet in Kyiv, Moishe House, and other Jewish programs that attract young adults. They had consulted with Moishe House residents on procedures for running Shabbat dinners and conducting other Jewish rituals at the Moishe House apartment. They led programs at Jewish seminars and camps. They traveled outside their Kyiv base to do similar work in other Jewish population centers.


One of their unexpected constituencies proved to be a fairly large number of young Jews working in Ukraine as members of the United States Peace Corps. Some of these individuals, said Ms. Pelcovits, clearly were looking for an English-language Jewish connection during their tenure in Ukraine. Several young Jewish Peace Corps volunteers had taken the Pelcovits couple to the villages in which they were stationed so that they can engage remnant Jewish populations in these locales.


In response to a question, both Aryeh and Stephanie Pelcovits said that they speak “decent Russian” after participating in Russian classes that the JDC had arranged for them. Communication with Ukrainian Jewish young people was not a serious problem, they said, since many Jews in their target age group speak English.


The Pelcovits couple were due to return to the United States in July; Mr. Pelcovits would begin medical school shortly thereafter. Before their departure from Kyiv, they said, they would like to create a programmatic infrastructure that continues after they leave. They envision a program that teaches young adults how to plan and carry out home-based Shabbat dinners and other small-group Jewish rituals.


[116] See pages 100-102.

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