Betsy Gidwitx Reports



90. Almost every Jewish-interest program in Ukraine is limited by inadequate financial resources. In addition to weakened fundraising results in western countries and the declining value of the United States dollar, Ukrainian inflation challenges the continuation of established and proven programs. Corruption often is a decisive factor in impeding acquisition of appropriate program premises; not only does it increase costs, it carries a heavy toll in abandonment of ethical and moral standards. Western and Israeli organizations almost uniformly reject the payment of bribes, but burdensome new tax measures in Ukraine will test the capacity of any organization to fully adhere to Ukrainian law.


91. The current generation of Ukrainian Jewish young people is newly empowered – by a growing variety of Jewish organizations and programs, by their own increasing command of the English language that enables them to participate in international Jewish life, and by electronic communications. They can reach beyond the Chabad rabbis who dominate Jewish communal existence in some areas of Ukraine and connect with other, more contemporary means of Jewish expression. Hillel, Limmud, different Israel experiences, and other programs have broadened their horizons.


Accordingly, the Hasidic dominion over Jewish communal life may be less tolerated, the ascendance of Chabad may be a phenomenon of the past. Notwithstanding the forthcoming completion of the massive Chabad Menorah Center in Dnipropetrovsk, younger urban Jews even in that city are looking beyond Chabad for a Jewish life that accommodates modernity and their twenty-first century aspirations. Surveys suggest that these aspirations include Jewish pluralism, which rarely is associated with Chabad. Jews of all ages might be aided in their quests for a more open Judaism by more vibrant and accessible representations of Progressive/Reform and Masorti/Conservative Judaism than currently are available in Ukraine; modern Orthodoxy, which might appeal to some young Jews, seems to have abandoned Ukraine altogether.


92. Israel commands a major role in the lives of many Ukrainian Jews, if only because most of them have relatives or friends in that country. Air links between the two states are strong, and recently instituted visa-free travel regulations facilitate the maintenance of relationships between individuals, families, and institutions. Emigration of Ukrainian Jews to Israel continues and is increasing, reflecting economic distress and political uncertainty in Ukraine – and also reflecting acknowledgement of Israel as a welcoming home.


93. Fundamental differences exist between Jewish life in Ukraine and Jewish life in Russia. Among these are the concentration of Jewish activity in two Russian cities and the more dispersed nature of Jewish initiatives in Ukraine. Neither country hosts an indigenous Jewish civic organization with a broad funding base, but the Russian Jewish Congress has progressed much further in that direction than United Jewish Community of Ukraine; the Russian group also demonstrates a more encompassing and thoughtful allocations process than its Ukrainian counterpart. Wealthy Jews in Moscow have joined forces to establish the Genesis Philanthropic Group, which supports Jewish identity-building among Russian-speaking Jews in multiple countries, but, with few exceptions, wealthy Ukrainian Jews seem unable to maintain civil relations with each other outside Dnipropetrovsk (and even in that city collaboration often is forced) and lack the vision necessary to create a comparable fund of national, let alone global, Jewish significance.







Betsy Gidwitz

Chicago, Illinois

August 22, 2011


Unless otherwise indicated, all photographs and translations are by the writer. Modified Ukrainian orthography generally is favored over Russian orthography.


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