Betsy Gidwitx Reports

A committee of PrivatBank officials and local Jewish community representatives meet monthly to evaluate loan applications. The average loan is $3,500, the maximum is $5,000. In addition to the application itself, the loan committee also considers personal circumstances of the applicant, such as family income, number of dependents, etc. More than 80 loans have been extended since the inception of the program; to date, 20 are still active and on target, and 60 have been repaid in full. No defaults have occurred.


Ms. Rier introduced the writer to several loan recipients. Lilya sells inexpensive women's and children's clothing in two market stalls; she received a microenterprise loan to open the second stall. Prior to entering the business world, she worked as a lighting technician in a theater, but her salary in that position was too low to support her large family. She travels by train or bus to wholesale clothing markets in Kharkiv, Odesa, or distant Khmelnytsky. She purchases only locally- or Polish-made clothing, finding Chinese-made clothing to be of poor quality. She has hired one employee for each stall, paying them a percentage of the sales that they make. Lilya lives with her husband, two daughters and two grandchildren, her sister and the sister's child. One of her grandchildren and her sister's child are handicapped. Lilya's husband is unemployed, and her sister and one daughter must stay at home to care for their handicapped children. Their apartment consists of three rooms, plus kitchen and bathroom.


Ludmila is a trained seamstress and operates her own custom clothing business. She also does alterations and repair of clothing for men, women, and children. She previously worked in a clothing factory. When the factory closed 11 years ago, Ludmila opened her own business. After learning about the microenterprise loan fund from a customer, she approached it to seek support for expansion of her workshop. She now has six commercial sewing machines and three employees. In response to a question, Ludmila said customers purchase their own fabric and bring it to her. Ludmila's husband walked out on her some years ago, and her mother has cancer.


Originally from Poltava (north of Dnipropetrovsk), Diana came to Dnipropetrovsk after college to join her mother, who had married a local man and moved to the city. Desiring to meet Jews in Dnipropetrovsk, Diana started to attend the Chabad synagogue; while there, she saw a small poster advertising the women's loan fund. Trained as a dancer in Poltava, Diana decided to apply for a loan to open a fitness studio for women. The loan fund management helped her develop a business plan. She received a loan, rents a studio, and concentrates on aerobics and step aerobics. Most of her clients are Jewish, ranging in age from young adults to women in their 50's. She has been so successful that she was able to pay back the loan in 10 months. Diana also met her husband at the synagogue and, at the time of the writer's interview with her, she was expecting their first child. She is very happy in Dnipropetrovsk, she said. Life is difficult for Jews in Poltava, she stated, due to pervasive antisemitism in the city. She was apprehensive about going to the local Chabad synagogue in Poltava, but studied Judaism on her own, using various Jewish websites as resources. Her husband is a local businessman, who attended an American yeshiva for one year. They enjoy hosting other Dnipropetrovsk Jews on Shabbat, she added.


Observers in Dnipropetrovsk note that JDC launched a microenterprise loan fund in the city some years ago. However, its procedures were much more complex and ultimately more expensive for the borrower. It closed after a short period of time.[88]


Synagogue-Administered Activity



43. Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki is the Chief Rabbi of Dnipropetrovsk and is regarded by many observers as the most effective community rabbi in all of the post-Soviet successor states. Although his fundraising efforts have suffered in the current economic climate, Rabbi Kaminezki has built an unparalleled community infrastructure, including education and welfare institutions, along with a massive community center. He enjoys excellent relations with international Jewish organizations, i.e., the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and also benefits from a unique twinning or sister-city relationship with the Jewish community of Boston.[89] His relations with local and oblast government officials are excellent. However, he is not without detractors; critics note that he is intolerant of non-Orthodox Judaism, having developed barriers to the development of a Progressive/Reform Jewish presence in the city.



Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki, a native of Israel, is widely considered the most accomplished community rabbi in all of the post-Soviet successor states. He has been Chief Rabbi of Dnipropetrovsk, a city of great importance in Chabad history, for more than 20 years.



Photo: the writer.


Rabbi Kaminezki confirmed that Dnipropetrovsk, a relatively wealthy city in Ukraine, is now experiencing economic distress. The situation is "very serious", he said. Contributions to the Board of Trustees (Попечительский совет) of the Philanthropic Fund of the [Chabad] Dnipropetrovsk Jewish Community (Благотворительный фонд Днепропетровского еврейского общины) have declined significantly, he continued. People simply do not have money and, therefore, they are unable to support community needs. The Chabad community has had to curtail or even eliminate funding of numerous programs, but he will not permit reduction of services to Jewish elderly or other vulnerable Jewish population groups.


Rabbi Kaminezki acknowledged that Beit Tsindlicht, the Chabad preschool, is seriously overcrowded.[90] Demand for high-quality Jewish preschool education is so strong that the city probably could support "five or six" similar programs, he said, but the [Chabad] community lacks the funds to open even one additional preschool.


Although the former oblast governor (Oleksandr Vilkul), who was very friendly to the Jewish community, has been promoted to a national position, his replacement (Dmytro Kolesknikov) also is well-disposed to Jews and, in fact, said Rabbi Kaminezki, goes out of his way to respect Jews and Jewish institutions. Mr. Kolesnikov recognizes that Jews play a significant role in the city and oblast economy, Rabbi Kaminezki continued, and will be careful to ensure the safety and comfort of the Jewish community. In common with Mr. Vilkul, Mr. Kolesnikov pursues a strong pro-business economic and social policy; neither man permits the confiscation of businesses by politically well-connected individuals, stated Rabbi Kaminezki. Even as Dnipropetrovsk is unable to escape the economic distress afflicting the entire country, it is suffering somewhat less than other regions of Ukraine.


Rabbi Kaminezki believes that the general mood (настроение) in the city is somewhat better than it was six months previously. Conditions are stabilizing, and people are more confident than they once were. Nonetheless, said Rabbi Kaminezki, Jewish emigration has increased; the Jewish Agency MASA program is very popular, he stated.[91]


Rabbi Kaminezki now occupies an office on the 18th floor in the new Menorah Center. He expressed confidence that the Menorah Center will become profitable in the near future, noting that a large portion (10,500 square meters of 12,500 square meters) of commercial space in the Center is already rented, and the hotel is becoming popular, especially for Shabbat package arrangements. Further, said Rabbi Kaminezki, the early success of the project had boosted the self-confidence of local Jews and has enhanced the image of the Jewish community in the city at large.



44. 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 2012-2013 is $4.2 million. The Community budgeted $4.7 million for 2011-2012; however, as it became clear that many of its donors would be unable to support the Philanthropic Fund, the Fund curtailed various programs. Nonetheless, they were forced to borrow $240,000 to meet expenses. (The budget excludes expenses for the Menorah Center, Beit Chana, the Jewish Medical Center, and certain other projects/programs that are financed separately.)


At its peak, the Board of the Philanthropic Fund included 89 members, all of whom were expected to contribute designated amounts to support the activities of the Chabad community. However, the economic crisis has taken a toll, reducing the number of donors to 70. Most contributors are local Jews, but some now live abroad and a few are foreign contributors. The active Board currently is reviewing all services, determined to reduce expenses. Fees are being charged for some programs that previously were offered without cost to participants, and other programs are being eliminated altogether.


One of the most visible program losses in 2013 is Chabad summer camps for local Jewish children. In years past, fees were charged for the separate boys' and girls' camps, but these only supplemented substantial investments from the Philanthropic Fund in camp operation. No such subsidies are available in 2013, said Mr. Brez, and camper families cannot afford to pay the full cost of camp. Thus, the Dnipropetrovsk Chabad Philanthropic Fund would be forced to suspend its 2013 summer camps, Mr. Brez stated in April. The Philanthropic Fund also outsourced certain meal preparation programs to a commercial company, when it determined that private business could prepare meals more efficiently than could the community itself; these programs include a dining service (soup kitchen) for impoverished Jewish elderly and meals for boys who live in the community dormitory. An effort also is being made, continued Mr. Brez, to find and use local kosher foods, since local products almost always are less expensive than those imported from Israel or Europe.


Zelig Brez, a local man, is the executive director of the Chabad philanthropic fund and the general Chabad infrastructure in Dnipropetrovsk.


Photo: Retrieved June 27, 2013


[88] Reports persist that some women seeking funds from the Jewish Women's Microenterprise Loan Fund are doing so as "fronts" for their husbands, who wish to start or expand their own businesses.

[89] These organizations are discussed on pages 86-87.

[90] See pages 44-45.

[91] MASA offers young adults an opportunity to pursue study, internship, and volunteer programs in Israel for five to 10 months. For those considering emigration to Israel (aliyah), the various MASA courses provide opportunities to explore study and work options in the Jewish state.

Prev | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | Next

Click here to view/download a PDF version of this report.
To view/print the above file you must have the free Adobe Acrobat reader. Click here to download the reader.
  Copyright 2007 Baecore Group