Betsy Gidwitx Reports



Hillel activists also enjoy several volunteer activities, said Ms. Tovkach. They visit with Jewish elderly in the Beit Baruch assisted living center and in the hesed, she stated[15]. Additionally, they visit lonely elderly Jews in their homes, sometimes bringing them small gifts of food from sponsors. Another volunteer activity is working with at-risk children.


Ms. Tovkach acknowledged that Hillel needs to strengthen its Jewish edu-cation programs. To that end, they are developing an adaptation of a JDC education plan that will meet the needs of Hillel members. In response to a question about participation of Hillel members in the Chabad STARS program (see above), Ms. Tovkach said that some people attend both Hillel and a STARS course. STARS, she noted, also refers halachically non-Jewish applicants to Hillel.


A new Hillel program, said Ms. Tovkach, focuses on young married Jewish couples, who often find that existing organizational activities do not meet their needs. (It is not uncommon in the post-Soviet states for Hillel to expand its better-known university programs to the post-college age cohort.)


The current annual budget of Hillel in Dnipropetrovsk is $46,000, Ms. Tovkach stated. This amount covers her fulltime salary and that of seven part-time staff. Major donors, she continued, are Hillel International, regional (CASE) Hillel, the Schusterman Family Foundation, the Genesis Philanthropic Group (Moscow), United Jewish Community of Ukraine, and the Joint Distribution Committee. Additionally, several local individuals contribute small sums and/or in-kind donations, such as food products and team t-shirts.


Encouraged by both Iosif Akselrud, the regional Hillel director, and Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki, Ms. Tovkach has begun to raise funds locally for Hillel operations. Clearly anxious about her initial efforts at fundraising, Ms. Tovkach said that she and Mr. Akselrud had set a goal of $10,000 for the first year; she had already raised $4,000, she stated proudly. Although Hillel prefers cash gifts, she also is seeking certain material goods, such as refreshments, office supplies, and team apparel.


Notwithstanding strong sister-city ties between Dnipropetrovsk and Boston, no exchanges have occurred between Dnipropetrovsk Hillel and any Hillels in Boston-area colleges/universities. However, said Ms. Tovkach, groups of Hillel members from Cornell University in New York have visited Dnipro-petrovsk several times in recent years.


Ms. Tovkach stated that Dnipropetrovsk Hillel fills two Taglit buses (birthright Israel; 40 people per bus) every year, one in winter and one in summer; other organizations in Dnipropetrovsk – the Jewish Agency, Nativ (through the Israel Cultural Center), and Chabad – organize their own Taglit groups, so the city is well represented in this program. Hillel does com-prehensive follow-up programming for all local young people participating in Taglit and attracts some of those who went on non-Hillel buses to local Hillel programs.


10. Beit Chana Jewish Women’s Pedagogical College was established in 1995 to prepare teachers and childcare workers for Chabad-sponsored preschools and elementary schools throughout the post-Soviet states. Initially, it recruited its all-female student enrollment mainly from smaller cities and towns, assuming that Jewish young women in such locales would be eager to escape their often-stifling environments for free college programs in a larger city. Over time, Beit Chana grappled with the consequences of lower educational achievement of girls from such circumstances and with demographic developments that sharply reduced the number of Jewish young women in smaller towns, regardless of their capacity to complete post-secondary education programs. Further, notwithstanding their enthusiasm for relocation to a larger city, many young women were reluctant to commit to residence in an isolated gender-segregated dormitory with a religious lifestyle for the duration of their course of study.


Beit Chana never reached its capacity enrollment of between 200 and 250 young women. It achieved its peak of 165 students several years ago, and its 2008-2009 enrollment plummeted to 70. Acknowledging that the institution was unlikely to survive without a “new vision”, Beit Chana has made several changes in its operational procedures during the last several years and intends to evolve further in the future. In collaboration with Crimean State University in Yalta, Beit Chana is now accredited to offer a full baccalaureate degree, rather than just the certificate program (approximately equivalent to an associate’s degree in the United States) that was its highest diploma in its earlier years. Its curriculum now includes degree concentrations in additional fields, including psychology, public relations, tourism, and finance, It scrapped its residence requirement, opening its program to day/commuter students from Dnipropetrovsk and environs.


In cooperation with Crimean State University, Beit Chana has developed both baccalaureate and master’s degree programs that enroll practicing teachers on a part-time basis. Some such students live and work outside Dnipropetrovsk and travel to the city for intensive courses several times yearly. All of its degrees are recognized both in Ukraine and Israel. According to Rabbi Moshe Weber, Rabbi of the College and its Deputy President for Jewish Studies and Jewish Education, Beit Chana graduates are in demand for teaching positions in Chabad schools throughout the post-Soviet states.



Rabbi Moshe Weber, left, has held administrative positions at Beit Chana through several transitions. He directs the Jewish studies and Jewish education component of the curriculum.


Photo: the writer.


Rabbi Weber stated that current enrollment at Beit Chana includes almost 70 students who follow the traditional curriculum in pursuit of associate or full bachelor’s degrees; 45 of these young women live in the Beit Chana dormitory, and the remainder commute from the city on a daily basis. Another 10 young women from the Chabad Akademia program in Kharkiv come to Beit Chana for intensive educational seminars enabling them to earn baccalaureate degrees.[16] Forty-seven women who already have associate’s degrees in education and are teaching in various schools (in Dnipropetrovsk and elsewhere) are enrolled in Beit Chana on a part-time basis, coming to the college for several periods of intensive education each year so that they can complete bachelor’s degrees. Additionally, Beit Chana hosts a twice-weekly intensive Judaica program for young women, which is an outgrowth of the STARS course; students receive stipends for their participation in this curriculum.


Expressing enthusiasm about the new Director of Beit Chana, Stanislav Sapozhnikov (see below), Rabbi Weber said that Beit Chana has improved significantly in the last few years. He expects Mr. Sapozhnikov to bring “revolutionary” changes to Beit Chana and to Jewish education in Ukraine.[17]



11. Stanislav Sapozhnikov, a local individual currently writing his Ph.D. dissertation in the field of educational administration, is the new Director of Beit Chana. His previous education experience includes positions at several local universities and other educational institutions.


Mr. Sapozhnikov said that he is charged with growing Beit Chana, expanding its enrollment to between 200 and 300 women and adding to the list of its degree programs so as to increase the appeal of the college. He foresees additional concentrations in English, Hebrew, management, banking, and “Ukraine in the world (Украина во мире)”. The new campus (see below) planned for Beit Chana will appeal to Jewish women throughout Ukraine, he continued, because it will have modern dormitories with amenities as well as up-to-date computer laboratories and other facilities. However, he cautioned, Jewish demographic decline has led to a situation in which very few halachically Jewish young people remain in the country; further, he continued, few halachically Jewish young women have the type of Jewish background that would attract them to a Chabad women’s college. Beit Chana must have very strong programs to entice non-Chabad Jewish young women to enroll.


Stanislav Sapozhnikov, right, a local non-observant Jewish educator, is the new director of Beit Chana Jewish Women’s Pedagogical College. Photo: the writer.


Notwithstanding the inherent difficulties in expanding Beit Chana, Mr. Sapozhnikov said that he is working very hard to attract the best possible instructors. The Beit Chana compensation schedule already is “not the lowest” in the city and he believes that teaching conditions on the new campus will be excellent. In response to a question, Mr. Sapozhnikov stated that he is not responsible for fundraising in support of Beit Chana.



12. A new program operating from Beit Chana premises in 2010-2011 is the International Hasidic Women’s Seminary. Managed entirely independently from Beit Chana, the seminary is a one-year course for girls from Chabad families. Most participants are approximately 19 years old and have already completed one year of intensive religious studies in a post-high school Chabad seminary in Israel or elsewhere. The first contingent of seminary participants included nine young women from the United States, Brazil, Argentina, England, and Ukraine. The operational language is English, although students were expected to possess “a background” in Hebrew. The stated objective of the program is to provide Chabad young women with a Jewish, Hasidic, and practical education in preparation for life as Chabad emissaries in Jewish communities throughout the world. The Seminary is supervised by Rabbi Moshe Weber.


The inaugural class of Seminary students poses outside their dormitory, which was built next to the regular Beit Chana dormitory so that the two groups could share dining facilities.


Photo: Chabad of Dnipropetrovsk.


[15] See pages 30-32 and 28-29 for information about Beit Baruch and the Dnipropetrovsk hesed respectively.

[16] See pages 25 and 53-54 for information about the Kharkiv Akademia program.

[17] The former Director, Tamara Olshanitskaya, has retired and moved to Boston to be with her adult children and her grandchildren who have resettled there.

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