Betsy Gidwitx Reports



Students are able to earn eight to 12 standard university credits from courses in psychology, public speaking, professional writing, and special needs education. Girls also are enrolled in classes in Judaism and Chabad philosophy, the latter facilitated by the close proximity of Dnipropetrovsk to places of significance in Chabad history. The girls traveled extensively in Ukraine, visiting these historic sites and other, newer Chabad communities. Additionally, students planned and led afterschool activities at the local Chabad day school (School #199) and planned and led a winter camp for some 30 girls, daughters of Chabad rabbis throughout Ukraine. They also volunteered in various capacities throughout the local Jewish community.


Most instructors are foreign-born Chabad-educated teachers who also have other responsibilities in Dnipropetrovsk. However, several Chabad rabbis from other Ukrainian cities traveled to Dnipropetrovsk once or twice weekly to teach classes, and Israeli experts conducted some classes by Skype. The Skype lessons were deemed problematic and will be replaced in succeeding years by Israelis who come to the city for week-long periods of intensive instruction.


The cost of the inaugural program to families was $5,200 per student, which included tuition, room and board, internal travel, and a class trip to Israel. This fee is significantly lower than charges for Chabad year-courses in Israel, said Rabbi Weber. He explained that the Dnipropetrovsk program is subsidized both by the local Jewish community (in return for the teaching done by the pupils) and by the Masa program of the Israeli government. It is likely that the fee in 2011-2012 will be about $7,500, Rabbi Weber stated.


The writer met with seven of the nine girls without any outsiders present. In response to a question about their expectations, several of the girls said that they had not known what to expect. Their major purposes in coming to Dnipropetrovsk, they continued, were to meet other Chabad girls from different countries and to help the local Jewish population. They were surprised by the highly developed Chabad infrastructure in the city. One participant said she expected Ukraine to consist mainly of “cabbage and old people”, and another assumed that Dnipropetrovsk was a “hick town”. The city was larger and much more “alive” than they had anticipated.


They expressed appreciation for the help offered to them by Rabbi and Mrs. Weber and said that everyone in the Chabad infrastructure (in Dnipropetrovsk and other cities that they visited) was very supportive and caring. Further, it was a real privilege to be in an area so rich in Chabad history. The caliber of instruction was excellent, except for some of the classes conducted by Skype from Israel. (Some of the Israeli teachers were not skilled instructors, and the spoken Hebrew of some was difficult to understand in the distance learning transmissions.)


When asked if their parents had suggested that they come to Dnipropetrovsk for a year or if the girls had heard about the course independently, each girl responded that she had heard about the course on her own through various media and then persuaded her parents of the value of such an experience. In response to another question, the girls said that their parents were not afraid to let them go to Ukraine; Rabbi Kaminezki, they continued, has such a fine worldwide reputation that their parents had full confidence in any program associated with him.


Responding to another question, the girls said that they would recommend the program unreservedly to their families and friends. No other program open to Chabad young women, they said, combines all of the elements – learning, teaching, organizing camps and other activities, volunteering, travel to places rich in Chabad history – that are available to them in the Dnipropetrovsk Seminary.


In fact, although the first Seminary year was still in operation (in late March) and none of its participants had yet returned home, its reputation had already attracted an unexpected 90 applicants for the 2011-2012 academic year. However, the Seminary would remain selective in accepting candidates, said Rabbi Weber; he was very leery that it would become so large that it might become impersonal. Rabbi Weber, who had just returned to Dnipropetrovsk from interviewing applicants in Milan, was visibly pleased with the success of the program to date. The Seminary, he said, was the beneficiary of great attention from many individuals in the local Chabad community, including families who invited the girls into their homes for meals and found ways in which to help them become engaged in various community activities. Many of the girls themselves, he said, were daughters of Chabad emissaries posted in various countries and wanted to do similar work after they married, so they were eager to acquire some experience in another part of the world. Further, he noted, each of the participants was mature and conducted herself in an appropriate manner; no disciplinary issues had arisen.[18]



13. Rabbi Meir Stambler is President of Beit Chana and Executive Director of the Chabad Federation of Jewish Communities in Ukraine. He shared Rabbi Weber’s enthusiasm about the Seminary, stating that the selection of Dnipropetrovsk by foreign students as a place of Jewish learning brings prestige to Beit Chana and to Chabad in Dnipropetrovsk. Further, he believes that the presence of fee-paying Jewish young women from other countries will inspire and influence local Beit Chana students to regard their own Jewish education more seriously. Conventional Beit Chana students pay no fees (in return for a teaching commitment), so sometimes they lack seriousness in their studies; instructors and “even the janitors” also regard the lack of financial commitment as a lack of general commitment. That international students would pay so much to learn in Dnipropetrovsk is revising the attitudes of many about the value of Jewish education, stated Rabbi Stambler.


Rabbi Meir Stambler, left, is President of Beit Chana and a prime mover in expansion of its current premises into a multi-faceted campus.

Photo: the writer.



Regarding the 90 young women who had applied for the 2011-2012 Seminary year, Rabbi Stambler said it was likely that only a portion of the 90 are serious applicants. The Seminary staff probably will select a class of about 40 young women in mid-July; the larger group might allow the admission of some girls on a scholarship basis, rather than limiting the Seminary experience to girls from financially comfortable families.


Speaking about development of the Beit Chana campus, Rabbi Stambler said that some easing of the financial crisis has enabled the college to move forward with building plans. They have separated construction into discrete segments that can be started as more funds become available. The first building, he said, is a new dormitory that will accommodate 80 to 120 girls in the regular Beit Chana course of studies; ground will be broken in May for this residence hall. Subsequent components will include: renovation of the existing dormitory into a classroom building;[19] construction of a separate facility for a library, computer rooms, seminar rooms, and conference halls; development of a hotel for teachers attending in-service education classes and for other women/girls participating in Shab-batonim; and a sports facility with gym-nasiums and a swimming pool. Another dormitory specifically for relig-ious girls may be developed separately or appended to one of structures already planned.


An artist’s rendition of the new Beit Chana campus shows dormitory and hotel build-ings in the rear, a rectangular classroom building at left front, a library/computer/conference facility in the center, and a sports facility at right.


The new campus, said Rabbi Stambler, is testimony to the Chabad belief in the necessity of investing in local teacher training. Effective teachers, he continued, must understand the local mentality and must speak the local language flawlessly. Also, employment of local individuals is much less expensive than providing documentation, transportation, housing allowances, school tuition for children, insurance, and other expenses associated with hiring foreigners.


Rabbi Stambler confirmed details of a collaborative arrangement with Academia, a Chabad women’s education program in Kharkiv currently enrolling about ten students.[20] Chabad in Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkiv pay tuition and other expenses for post-high school girls and young women in a variety of fields (such as medicine, pharmacy, psychology, education, and fashion design) in return for participation by the students in Kharkiv synagogue-based evening courses in Judaism, Hasidut, Jewish law, Jewish history, and Hebrew. The Kharkiv Jewish studies curriculum is supplemented by three two-week intensive seminars at Beit Chana, which include Shabbatons and related programming.


The Special Needs Educational Resource Center, funded by Boston and enrolling approximately 50 youngsters up to the age of 23, continues to operate at Beit Chana, said Rabbi Stambler. The Chabad community is committed to its programs and would assign appropriate space to it after the current Beit Chana classroom building is closed.


In response to a question, Rabbi Stambler said that Chabad in Dnipropetrovsk, as the leading Chabad community in Ukraine, is seriously considering development of a residential high school for girls from Chabad emissary families living in Ukraine. Although the Dnipropetrovsk Chabad population is sufficiently large to sponsor its own machon for girls, smaller Chabad Jewish populations are unable to provide such education programs for their children; some send young girls to Israel at age 10 or so to live with relatives and attend Chabad schools there. A residential school in Dnipropetrovsk, said Rabbi Stambler, would be much easier for girls and their families because strong transportation links between the city and many other population centers in Ukraine would enable frequent visits home. Chabad rabbis in several other cities had already asked that Dnipropetrovsk establish such a school for girls between the ages of 10 and 17 or 18.[21] Rabbi Stambler said that the projected school might open as early as September 2012. It will be an Israeli-style Chabad school, he stated, with a full secular studies program leading to Israeli bagrut (matriculation) examinations.


[18] Rabbi Weber stated to the writer that Israeli and American Chabad families tended to educate their daughters differently. In Israel, he said, families expect their daughters to graduate from high school, successfully complete the bagrut (Israeli matriculation) examinations, receive a B.A. degree from an accredited religious women’s college, and marry shortly thereafter (at age 21 or 22). American Chabad families, he continued, may send their post-high school daughters to a one-year seminary program for intensive religious education followed by a second year in a mixed program somewhat similar to that in Dnipropetrovsk. American families are less concerned with a formal undergraduate degree and expect their daughters to marry somewhat earlier, perhaps as young as 19. Chabad families outside Israel and the United States decide which pattern they wish to follow.

See the interview with Rabbi Meir Stambler on this page for additional information about the Seminary.

[19] The existing classroom building, located some distance from the dormitory building, will be sold. Even in the current depressed real estate market, Rabbi Stambler believes that a reasonable selling price is between $2 million and $3 million.

[20] See pages 53-54 for more information about Academia.

[21] A comparable residential school for Chabad boys also is under consideration. See page 35. Ukrainian youngsters graduate from high school at age 17.

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