Betsy Gidwitx Reports



Commenting about the general situation in Dnipropetrovsk, Rabbi Glick said that the “shock” of the economic crisis of the last few years seems to have given way to “cynicism” and “desperation”. People are consumed with worry about such basic needs as food and medicine, he continued. Antisemitism has increased, he added, boosted by antisemitic sites online and by antisemitic responses to general Internet postings.



7. A Jewish big brother/big sister program was started in Dnipropetrovsk ten years ago with the active encouragement and assistance of the Jewish Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Greater Boston, a constituent agency of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, the Boston Jewish federation. According to its executive director, Tatiana Kaplunskaya, the Dnipropetrovsk program now includes 57 pairs of older/younger siblings. Additional children are on a waiting list for big brothers or big sisters, said Ms. Kaplunskaya. Some former big brothers/sisters have withdrawn from the program as they have married or even have left Dnipropetrovsk, most going to Israel.



Tatiana Kaplunskaya, left, heads the Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters program in Dnipropet-rovsk, assisted by Anya Abakunova. Ms. Aba-kunova is a graduate of School #144 and a current big sister in the program.


Photo: the writer.


The overwhelming majority of little brothers/sisters enroll in JBB/BS through School #144, said Ms. Kaplunskaya. The remainder register through the local hesed. Some older siblings are enlisted through Hillel, others through friends, and an increasing number were younger siblings themselves in previous years.


Diminished resources forced the program to suspend the provision of small monthly stipends to big siblings that enabled them to pay entrance fees into amusement parks or other venues, purchase light meals or snacks, and arrange transportation for themselves and their younger brothers/sisters. Instead, said Ms. Kaplunskaya, she now arranges monthly events for the entire group (such as ice skating parties, bowling, or visits to amusement parks) that include transportation, food, and, in some instances, prizes. On other occasions, activities are arranged for smaller groups, such as age cohorts. Groups always are accompanied by a psychologist, who observes youngsters and follows up when behavioral patterns suggest that some professional intervention is desirable. Group activities also facilitate the maintenance of kashrut, which often was ignored when pairs engaged in activities on their own, Ms. Kaplunskaya added.


Notwithstanding the focus on group activities, continued Ms. Kaplunskaya, some big brothers/big sisters still remain able to meet individually with their younger siblings, sometimes taking them on walks or engaging in other low-key activities. Her dream, said Ms. Kaplunskaya, is to marshal sufficient resources to organize a Shabbaton, an event that would start on a Friday and conclude on a Sunday.


The Jewish big brother/big sister program receives an annual subsidy from Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, the Boston Jewish federation. Ms. Kaplunskaya has visited the offices of the JBB/BS Association of Greater Boston and marvels at its infrastructure.



8. Iosif Masakovsky, a local former computer technology teacher, manages a continuum of Chabad Jewish education courses in which halachically Jewish students and other young adults are compensated for their attendance. The program begins with the STARS (Student Torah Alliance for Russian Speakers) course in which students are paid $45 monthly for participating in weekly gender-segregated classes; participants then move on to Stars Plus and other programs that pay $100 weekly for attendance at three weekly classes. Classes are held in the synagogue so that young people become accustomed to synagogue attendance. Coeducational celebrations of holidays are held, and some instructors invite small mixed groups of students to their homes for Shabbat.


Iosif Masakovsky is a local individual, largely self-taught in Judaism. He manages an extensive program of Jewish edu-cation courses in which halachically Jewish participants are remunerated for attendance.

Photo: the writer.

Another program, Shiurei Torah (Torah Lessons), reaches out to students and young adults across Ukraine in a series of lessons and conferences with a highly-structured curriculum. Recognizing that some individuals may be apprehensive about entering synagogues, some of the classes are held in neutral sites, such as conference rooms in banks or office buildings. Seminars for the training of teachers are held in Dnipropetrovsk. All participants receive a significant stipend, Mr. Masakovsky said.


In response to a question, Mr. Masakovsky stated that separate classes are held for non-halakhic Jews, some of whom wish to convert to Judaism. Participants in these classes pay tuition and certain costs connected with the conversion process.


Most instructors are from Dnipropetrovsk. Some are local religious Jews and others are rabbis who were raised in Israel, but now live in Dnipropetrovsk.



9. The Hillel student organization continues to grow, attracting about 100 students on a regular basis to its varied events. About 25 of these individuals form a leadership group, said Olga Tovkach, the Hillel director in Dnipropetrovsk. Several hundred may attend holiday celebrations, most of which are held in cooperation with other organizations, such as the Jewish Agency, in order to save money on facilities rental, entertainment, and other items. Russian-language social networking sites have proved effective in reaching out to uninvolved students, commented Ms. Tovkach.


The most popular Hillel program, Ms. Tovkach said, is an adapted Shabbat service. Interested Hillel members convene at 6:30 p.m. on Friday evenings, light candles, and listen to a Torah portion reflection that someone has prepared. Blessings are said for wine and challah, and participants consume grape juice and challah. The second most popular program is a Jewish version of a popular Russian intellectual game – What? Where? When? The Dnipropetrovsk Hillel team in this game has won awards in competitions with teams from other cities, Ms. Tovkach continued.


Olga Tovkach, left, is the director of Hillel in Dnipropet-rovsk. She has been successful in converting the organi-zation from one of the weakest large-city Hillels in the post-Soviet states to a strong, vibrant student/young adult group.


Photo: the writer.



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