Betsy Gidwitx Reports



Rabbi Kaminezki shares the excitement of Rabbi Moshe Weber and Rabbi Meir Stambler about the new Beit Chana buildings.  Israeli specialists are providing welcome advice about planning the extensive renovation of the existing building and developing the new dormitory structure, stated Rabbi Kaminezki. 


A new yeshiva katana designed specifically for boys aged 13 to 16 from Chabad families will open in September, 2012, Rabbi Kaminezki said.  Initially, it will be located in an existing structure, most likely an ordinary house that will be renovated to accommodate both classrooms and dormitory facilities.  As soon as Beit Chana girls vacate the current Beit Chana dormitory, that structure will be remodeled as a yeshiva with classrooms, a dining room and other facilities, and a dormitory to house out-of-town youngsters.  Although the initial enrollment will be small, Rabbi Kaminezki anticipates an eventual enrollment of as many as 150 boys – two classes of 25 students in each of three age levels (13-14, 14-15, and 15-16 years old, corresponding to eighth, ninth, and tenth grades).  Dnipropetrovsk and the surrounding region are so significant in Chabad history and tradition that the yeshiva is likely to attract boys from many countries whose families want them to experience this rich Chabad atmosphere.  Rabbi Kaminezki is currently speaking with highly qualified Chabad educators in Israel, trying to engage one or more to lead the yeshiva, teach, and counsel the boys.[47]



17.  Vyecheslav “Slavik” or “Zelig” Brez is the Executive Director (Исполнительный директор) of the Philanthropic Fund of the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish Community (Благотворительный фонд Днепропетровского еврейского общины), which supports Chabad interests in the city.  Mr. Brez stated that the Philanthropic Fund budget for 2011-2012 is $4.8 million, which is the same as the previous year.  (The budget excludes expenses for the Menorah Center, Beit Chana, the Jewish Medical Center, and certain other projects/programs that are financed separately.)   About 20 of the approximately 90 members of the Board of Trustees (Попечительский совет) of the Philanthropic Fund have either ceased supporting the community completely or have decreased their gifts significantly due to the economic crisis, said Mr. Brez.  However, he continued, they are retained on the Board in the hope that they will resume their contributions as soon as their financial circumstances improve.  Learning from Federations in North America, Mr. Brez stated that the Philanthropic Fund now has developed its own campaign video as a tool in local fundraising.


Vyecheslav “Slavik” Brez is the Executive Director of the Chabad Jewish community infrastructure in Dnipropetrovsk.  A local man from a non-observant family, Mr. Brez has become more observant as he has worked with Chabad; he has adopted the Jewish name of “Zelig”.  Mr. Brez is considered one of the most competent Jewish community professionals in all of the post-Soviet states.


Photo: the writer (in 2011).



All in all, Mr. Brez said, the local Chabad community raises 85 percent of its budget locally; in 1998-1999, it raised only 30 percent of a much smaller budget locally.  Contributions from the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston (the Boston Jewish federation) amount to $110,000 annually.[48]  The Philanthropic Fund applied to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (Claims Conference) for $40,000 to subsidize assistance to Jewish elderly residing at Beit Baruch, stated Mr. Brez, but the Joint Distribution Committee blocked the allocation.[49]


The Philanthropic Fund is reaching out to engage heretofore uninvolved Jews and build their commitment to the [Chabad-directed] Jewish community, said Mr. Brez as he delineated approaches to several different groups.  A priority target group has been young Jewish businessmen, some of whom are sons of men already on the Board.  A second group is young professionals, such as doctors and lawyers.   A third group consists of students, many of whom already are active in Hillel or in other Jewish student groups.  Chabad tries to develop programs appropriate for each of these groups that will encourage young adult Jews to make Judaism and the Jewish community essential components of their lives.


Mr. Brez expressed satisfaction with the work of the Jewish  Medical  Center to date,[50]

but acknowledged that its remote location at Beit Baruch limited its usefulness to the Jewish community.  People were dependent on an infrequent shuttle service, a long bus ride, or private transportation to access its care.  Expansion in the center of the city was critical to its success, he said, but it is likely that current economic conditions will deter opening of a second comprehensive medical center for several years.


In general, Mr. Brez continued, the Chabad community is deferring all new endeavors because it just cannot absorb any new expenses.  The only new projects/programs that it will consider are those that are fully funded by donors.


In response to a question about several acts of violence in Dnipropetrovsk that had received fairly wide publicity abroad in the last year, Mr. Brez said that perpetrators of these acts had not yet been found.  Although a victim of a well-publicized murder was Jewish, antisemitism was not believed to be a motive in the assault.[51]


No antisemitic attacks on property had been recorded in the last year, said Mr. Brez.  However, he continued, antisemitism is rampant on the Internet.



18. Igor Romanov is Director of the regional office of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities (Объединение юдейских религиозных общин), the Chabad religious organization in Ukraine. The Dnipropetrovsk region includes 16 communities in Dnipropetrovsk and Kirovohrad oblasts. The role of the regional office is to reach out to Jews in population centers that are too small to have resident rabbis.  The regional office, said Igor Romanov, whose responsibilities include this portfolio, provides financial, spiritual, and community-building assistance.  Typically, he explained, the regional office rents premises in each town for a small community office and program center.  A rabbi visits the three largest Jewish population centers periodically to teach classes in Judaism (to local men).  Student rabbis are sent to all towns to conduct seders; some 2,000 Jews participated in such local seders this year, said Mr. Romanov.  The regional office provides matzah and certain other food items, such as fruit juice, but is dependent upon local businesspeople and seder participants to finance the remainder of the seder.


Hennadi Boholubov, President of the Chabad Philanthropic Fund in Dnipropetrovsk, distributes food parcels through the regional office to some 5,850 Jews in the region (including the city of Dnipropetrovsk itself) twice annually, continued Mr. Romanov, at Rosh Hashanah and for Purim/Pesach.   Given the extent of the economic crisis, the parcels were increased in size this year.  However, certain other financial assistance that Chabad previously extended to Jews in small towns was suspended several years ago when other donors encountered financial difficulties and terminated their aid.


The regional office also provides community and civic assistance.  Mr. Romanov described a recentl visit to Pavlohrad as an example.  He had traveled to Pavlohrad (population 119,7000,[52] located almost due east of Dnipropetrovsk), with Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki and Israeli Consul Nelly Shulman.[53]  Together with local Jews, they commemorated 200 years of Jewish history in the city.  They met with the mayor and participated in several events marking the bicentennial anniversary.



Igor Romanov represents Chabad in small Jewish population centers.  He manages several Chabad outreach programs and also maintains contact with police and judicial systems throughout the area, including Dnipropetrovsk itself, on behalf of Chabad.



Photo: the writer.




19.  Oleg Rostovtsev is a media specialist whose primary client is the Chabad Jewish community structure in Dnipropetrovsk.  He is responsible for the community website (, a community newspaper (Shabbat Shalom), and a weekly television show, Alef.  Each episode of Alef  is shown twice weekly on a regional network and draws several hundred thousand viewers to its program of interviews with local Jews and visiting Jewish guests, information about Jewish holidays and Jewish current events, and news from Israel.  Because of its large audience, it attracts significant advertising.  Mr. Rostovtsev also produces various compact disks for the community, arranges and manages press conferences, and serves as a guide/contact person for visiting reporters and other media specialists.


Additionally, Mr. Rostovtsev monitors local and regional websites for antisemitic content.  The incidence of antisemitism on these websites is "stable", Mr. Rostovtsev observed, amounting to about 350 antisemitic comments each month.  One particular site, Left Bank (Левый берег),[54] is heavily antisemitic in substance, he said.  Commenting further on local antisemitism, Mr. Rostovtsev noted that almost all wealthy businessmen in the city are Jewish, a fact that generates antisemitic bigotry; further, some of these wealthy Jewish businessmen are perceived as unethical in their business practice. Successful Jews are considered "clannish", he continued, conducting business and socializing mainly among themselves.  Also, Jewish property developers are accused of tearing down buildings of traditional Ukrainian architecture and replacing them with faceless modern structures that destroy the city's character.



Oleg Rostovtsev is a media specialist employed by the Dnipropetrovsk Chabad community.



Photo: Chabad of Dnipropetrovsk..



Local economic distress, noted Mr. Rostovtsev, creates conditions in which antisemitism prospers.  He perceives little likelihood that anti-Jewish bigotry will diminish in the near future.


[47]   A month or so after the writer’s visit, Rabbi Kaminezki postponed the opening of the new yeshiva for one academic year.  He had been unable to find appropriate educators who wanted to lead the new institution in Dnipropetrovsk, he said.  He needed more time to find appropriate personnel.

[48] The $110,000 does not include Boston allocations to several Dnipropetrovsk medical clinics.  These clinics provide care to both Jewish and non-Jewish patients.

[49] Historically, JDC has successfully intervened to maintain a monopoly on Claims Conference support for welfare assistance to Jews in different cities in the post-Soviet states.

[50]  See pages 27-29.

[51]  Hennady Akselrod, a prominent 45-year old property developer, was murdered, supposedly by an armed man on a bicycle, in April 2012.  Mr. Akselrod, who kept a distance from the Jewish community and was not a contributor to it, was said to be heavily in debt.  An earlier attempt to kill him and two partners failed in summer of 2011.  Following Mr. Akselrod’s death, two small plastic bombs were detonated in Dnipropetrovsk; no targets were apparent and no one was injured.  Property damage was minimal.  The two incidents do not appear to be related.

[52]  Retrieved September 27, 2012.

[53]   See pages 42-43 for more information about Ms. Shulman.

[54]  The title refers to the left (eastern shore) bank of the Dnipr River, which is less well developed in Dnipropetrovsk and in other cities than the right (western) shore.


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