Betsy Gidwitx Reports



Although the Center is somewhat less conspicuous than it was at the time of its conception four or five years ago due to the development of other large buildings in its immediate vicinity, it remains pretentious and ostentatious, thus stoking fear in Dnipropetrovsk and elsewhere that it will generate antisemitism.  The reality that independent Jewish organizations, such as the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Hillel student organization, feel compelled to move their operations to a Chabad facility only underlines the hegemonic influence of Chabad in Dnipropetrovsk, commented both local and non-resident observers.  Expanding on that theme, several Jewish community professionals expressed apprehension that potential participants in, say, JAFI or Hillel activities, will forgo such involvement in order to avoid any contact with religion-associated structures in general or Chabad in particular.



Jewish Education and Culture


2.  Chabad maintains two early childhood education centers in the city, neither of which the writer was able to visit during her May 2012 journey.  The Ilana day care center enrolls about 35 children between the ages of one and three.  A much larger program is Beit Tsindlicht, a preschool accommodating about 150 youngsters between 2½ and six in a two-story structure with a well-equipped playground.[15]  Both programs operate a full day, serving both breakfast and lunch.  Each is highly regarded by participating families and by professionals as well. Both charge tuition, although accommodation is made for a small group of youngsters from disadvantaged home situations.  Almost all children are halachically Jewish.   Although a significant proportion of lead teachers and administrators are Israeli women educated in Israel, the majority of instructors were trained at Beit Chana.[16]



Chabad nursery school children visit a shmurah matza factory operated by Chabad near Dnipropetrovsk.



Photo: ЕВРЕЇ ДНІПРОПЕТРОВЩИНИ: історіа та сучасністью.(Дніпропетровськ: Арт-Прес, 2011), 44.




A plan to open a second early childhood program on the east (and less well-developed) side of the Dnipr River in premises controlled by Chabad collapsed in 2010 when Chabad refused to pay bribes in return for city operating permits.  Beit Tsindlikht currently operates at capacity.



3.  School #144, which bears the formal name of Levi Yitzhak Schneerson Ohr Avner Jewish Day School, occupies a three-building campus used as a boarding school during the Soviet period.  The main building houses 315 youngsters in grades one through eleven in a general curriculum with a modest Jewish studies program. (See below.)   Another 175 pupils are enrolled in more intensive Chabad religious programs, i.e., 90 boys in a yeshiva katana  and 85 girls in a machon, each in its own separate building.  (See below.)


The main building of School 144 is seen at right.  The girls’ machon is behind this building and the boys’ yeshiva katana is to the left of the pictured building.


Photo: Chabad of Dnipropetrovsk.


At its peak census in the late 1990’s, the school enrolled close to 700 youngsters, most in the general program. At that time, it was the largest Jewish day school in all of the post-Soviet states and one of the largest in all of Europe.  Both the total number of pupils (490) and the number of youngsters in the secular program have been decreasing over the years at the same time that both the raw number and proportion of pupils in the more intensive religious sections has been increasing.   The growth of the Chabad religious programs reflects the increasing Chabad population in the city, whereas the decreasing enrollment in the general program reflects Jewish demographic losses, parental disdain for the religious studies program and for Chabad, and a perception that the general studies program is inferior to that in many other city schools. 


Mikhail Gugel, principal, stated that the school remains a public school and charges no tuition.  It receives the regular municipal allocation for its secular studies program and is subsidized by the local Chabad Jewish community (Благотворительный фонд Днепропетровского еврейского общины) for the religious studies component, ongoing upkeep and renovations, and periodic equipment upgrades, such as several additional smart boards and some new computers (replacing obsolescent ORT-supplied computers) for the 2011-2012 academic year. Major renovations are underway on the third floor, Mr. Gugel commented.[17]


The Avi Chai Foundation continues to support an annual Shabbaton for a limited number of pupils and their parents, continued Mr. Gugel.  The most significant outside funder is the Boston Jewish federation (Combined Jewish Philanthropies) which, through its Jewish community sister-city relationship with Dnipropetrovsk, provides funding for two short-term camps,[18] English-language library books, and training of English-language instructors.  CJP also purchased new equipment for the school kitchen in 2011-2012, said Mr. Gugel.[19] 


In response to a question, Mr. Gugel said that the school needs even more computers and related equipment, electronic textbooks, and laboratory equipment and supplies for instruction in both physics and chemistry.  A previous plan to build a full-size sports hall and community rooms seems to have been abandoned; the school has only a small gymnasium in the yeshiva and a small fitness studio in the machon building that is used only by girls enrolled in the machon.


Principal Mikhail Gugel came to School #144 in 2010 after many years of experience in Dnipropetrovsk secular schools and local colleges and universities.  His parents live in Israel.


Photo: the writer (in 2011).



The Jewish studies component of the school curriculum consists of three class periods weekly in Jewish tradition and three class periods in Hebrew language instruction.  All Jewish holidays are observed, and Jewish content is included in music, art, and drama.   A more comprehensive Jewish studies program would interfere (мешаться) with the general studies curriculum – and the secular studies component is far more important to parents than is the Jewish program, said Mr. Gugel.  School #144 continues to improve its secular instruction, he noted, and has done well in municipal competitions in various subjects.  Nonetheless, the school is not considered among the strongest or most prestigious in the city.


Curricula in the yeshiva katana and machon emphasize religious studies.  Both are directed by Israelis and the predominant language of instruction in Chabad subjects is Hebrew.  Although both boys and girls also study general subjects, the secular studies program in the yeshiva katana, in particular, is limited.


Envisaging future enrollment, Mr. Gugel said that he expected that the school would grow marginally in the next few years.  He observed that 32 youngsters would graduate from eleventh grade in June 2012 and that 50 children had already registered for the 2012-2013 first-grade class.  Demographic factors, including a policy that limits enrollment to halachically Jewish youngsters, constrain school growth.[20]


At the time of the writer’s visit in May, plans were proceeding to open a separate yeshiva katana in fall 2012 with boarding facilities for boys between the ages of approximately 10 and 16.  Enrollment would be limited to youngsters from Chabad families so that high standards of study and commitment to Chabad tradition would be maintained.  A market for this type of institution is known to exist, especially for the sons of Chabad emissaries stationed in small Ukrainian towns who fear inability to educate their children in communities with very few other Chabad families.  Further, it is hoped that the high quality of such an institution would attract boys from Chabad families in other countries whose families are eager for them to imbibe the rich Chabad history in this area of Ukraine.  However, a decision was made shortly after the writer’s visit to postpone opening of this program for at least one additional school year.


4.  Under the sponsorship of Tzivos Hashem (Heb., The Army of G_d), a Chabad children’s organization, Rabbi Yossi Glick manages several children’s programs in the city.  The best known of these are separate residential facilities for Jewish boys and girls from troubled home situations.  Often referred to as “social orphans,” most of the youngsters are from single-parent homes in which the custodial parent is unable to provide adequate childcare due to alcohol or other substance addiction, impoverish-ment, or other problems.  Some parents are imprisoned.  A few youngsters have been cared for by aging grandparents unable to cope with the needs of active, growing children. 



Rabbi Yossi Glick, a native of Australia, manages several Chabad children’s programs in Dnipropetrovsk.



Photo: the writer.


[15]  The Ilana program is named in memory of a former participant who died as a young child.  Beit Tsindlicht is named in memory of the maternal grandparents of Viktor Pinchuk, a native of Dnipropetrovsk who now lives in Kyiv and is married to the daughter of Leonid Kuchma, a past President of Ukraine.  Mr. Pinchuk, who provided the lead gift for development of the building, is an oligarch with major interests in iron and steel products, as well as other industries.

[16]  See pages 19-22.

[17]  Mr. Gugel said that the main building was constructed in 1936 as a boarding school (with dormitories on the upper floors) and was converted into a military hospital during World War II.  Following the war, it reverted to use as a boarding school; the smaller structures now housing the machon and yeshiva katana were built as vocational workshops in the 1950’s and 1970’s respectively.

[18]  A winter camp, Havaya, enrolls adolescents from Dnipropetrovsk, Boston, and, periodically, Haifa, for a two-week session that usually is held in the Dnipropetrovsk area.  (Haifa is Boston’s Partnership community in Israel.)  In June, following the close of school, a two-week English-language day camp is held for elementary school children in Dnipropetrovsk.  Teachers at the camp include both day school teachers and visiting instructors from Boston.  School #144 English-language instructors also have attended summer teaching seminars in Boston, but CJP did not offer such a program in 2012, Mr. Gugel noted.

[19]  See pages 43-44 for additional information about the Dnipropetrovsk-Boston relationship.

[20]  It is generally posited that 80 percent of married Jews in Ukraine are married to someone who is not Jewish.  Dnipropetrovsk Chabad standards on the admission of non-halachically Jewish youngsters into its programs are elastic, reflecting the level of Jewish commitment in the child’s home and, some say, the level of family financial support of Chabad programs in the city.  The number of non-halachically Jewish youngsters in the Dnipropetrovsk Chabad school is very small.


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