Betsy Gidwitx Reports






62.  Increasingly, indigenous operators of Jewish-focus programs in Ukraine understand the need to develop a broad-based indigenous fundraising capacity and to lessen their dependence on foreign funders.  Equally, the concept of fee-for-service is understood and accepted; if a program is offered free of charge - with the possible exception of welfare assistance to impoverished Jewish elderly and handicapped younger Jews  - it is viewed as low in quality and unattractive.

Young Jewish community professionals eagerly attend fundraising workshops and ask foreigners for advice.  To date, however, their organizations appear to operate on a money-in/money-out basis, with little long-range planning and only basic financial management.  To be sure, omnipresent corruption deters development of a sophisticated financial management system.



63.  Certain international Jewish organizations - principally, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee - continue to build Jewish community structures without input from local Jewish communities.  The new JDC Jewish Center in Kharkiv is a case in point, modeled on counterpart institutions in other cities rather than on expressions of interest from local Jews.  No attempt was made to mobilize local financial support, and no plan exists to enlist local collaboration in the future.  Such an approach is a dependency model, establishing dependency on a foreign institution and limiting the likelihood of generating local responsibility and support.



64.   Jewish young adults active in Jewish community life repeatedly express enthusiasm about peer-led Jewish organizations, such as Limmud and Moishe House, that are non-denominational among Jewish religious streams.  They are equally admiring of the Jewish Agency Hamama (Incubator) program that allocates seed money for young adult initiatives.  Such activities provide young people with experience that may prepare them for leadership roles in a future Jewish civil society. 


Informed by newly-acquired capacity in English, international travel experience, and the Internet, Russian-speaking Jewish young adults in the 21st century live in circumstances unimagined by their parents and by the well-meaning foreigners who established top-down Jewish programs for post-Soviet Jews in the 1990's.  Many contemporary post-Soviet Jewish young leaders are smart and creative; in common with their peers in other countries, they are interested in developing programs based on Jewish tradition, but pluralist and modern in approach, content, and governance.



65.  Expansion of existing programs offered by the Masorti/Conservative and Progressive/Reform movements in Ukraine will provide additional options for Jewish involvement.  Each of these movements requires substantially greater investment, including Russian-speaking rabbis who relate well to young people and young families, than is now apparent.  Program premises must be modern and welcoming.



66.  A number of local Chabad rabbis - for example, Shmuel Kaminezki in Dnipropetrovsk, Moshe Moskovitz in Kharkiv, and Yonatan Markovich, Mordechai Levenhartz, and Moshe Asman in Kyiv - have developed and maintain welfare services that provide important aid to local Jewish populations. Adopt-a-Bubbe also provides significant welfare assistance in specific areas. All of these programs fill gaps in welfare service and often are overlooked in evaluating local Jewish communal structures.



67.  Although indigenous Jewish young adults appear to enjoy periodic visits with elderly Jews and occasional interaction with handicapped children or peers, little interest is evident among local Jews in developing community-based infrastructure that

addresses the needs of Jewish at-risk children, elderly individuals, or people with disabilities.  As services are reduced by the Joint Distribution Committee and supplemental aid provided through the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany is scheduled to peak and then decline significantly within the next few years, local Jews seem ill-prepared to bear responsibility for the disadvantaged among them.  Rabbinic efforts, such as those noted above, and independent foreign-based assistance initiatives cannot fulfill these needs.  Further, any successful comprehensive indigenous social service agency would require the resources of a Jewish fundraising and financial management system that does not yet exist in the post-Soviet states.



68.  Although many Jews in smaller cities and towns continue to leave these locales on their own, remnant Jewish populations remain in smaller population centers that are burdened with inferior infrastructures and limited employment opportunities.  Jews in these areas also are isolated from other Jews and may feel inhibited in expressing their Jewish identity.  Notwithstanding the reality that outreach is expensive in areas of low Jewish population density, support should be sought for inclusion of all small-city Jewish youngsters in such programs as Jewish camping and for their orderly departure from these areas and systematic immigration to Israel or relocation to nearby larger Jewish centers. 



69.  Those who observe Ukraine from the outside or even from Kyiv must be mindful of the differences between regions and cities, even cities of similar sizes.  The reader is referred to disparities in regional/local government policies in Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkiv, for example, and the impact of these dissimilarities on local economies and general daily life.



70.  Equally, Jewish life has developed differently in different Jewish population centers.  Rabbi Kaminezki exerts enormous influence in Dnipropetrovsk, so much so that leaders of other Jewish programs feel compelled to clear major decisions with him.  No rabbi in Kyiv enjoys even a fragment of such authority.  In Odesa, two Orthodox rabbis compete with each other, diminishing the moral authority of the rabbinate and of Jewish religious groups in general.




Betsy Gidwitz

Chicago Illinois

October 22, 2012


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

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