Betsy Gidwitx Reports

The Chabad community has increased school fees, Mr. Brez said, and hopes that planned improvements in the quality of instruction at the day school will bring new pupils and increased financial support from families.[92] Staff layoffs in various areas of Chabad infrastructure are contemplated, continued Mr. Brez, and it is likely that some remaining community staff will be asked to take pay cuts.


Not all developments are negative, Mr. Brez hastened to add. The Boston Jewish Community Women’s Fund contributed $50,000 for a new ultrasound machine for the Jewish Medical Center; although the Boston Jewish community has made significant gifts of medical equipment to Dnipropetrovsk medical institutions in the past, the BJCWF contribution to the Jewish Medical Center is the first Boston medical donation to a specifically Jewish institution.[93] The Jewish Medical Center, continued Mr. Brez, entered a competitive bidding process for the provision of medical care to clients of the local JDC hesed. It was awarded the contract, Mr. Brez said, a significant vote of confidence in the JMC and also an important addition to JMC revenue. Mr. Brez observed that the community is seeking a donor to develop designated space within the Menorah Center for a centrally located and larger JMC than is possible in its existing premises at Beit Baruch.


Asked to describe the current mood (настроение) in the city, Mr. Brez responded that economic pressure was very "deep", affecting both institutions and individuals alike. Many people are considering emigration, he said, because they were pessimistic about their ability to "survive" in Ukraine.



45. 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 support the work of rabbis in smaller Jewish population centers in these areas and to reach out and attempt to bring Jewish life to Jews in towns that do not have rabbis. Only three cities of the 16 - Kirovohrad, Kryvyi Rih (Krivoi Rog), and Dniprodzerzhynsk - have resident rabbis, Mr. Romanov noted.


Igor Romanov represents Chabad in small Jewish popula-tion centers in Dnipropetrovsk and Kirovohrad oblasts. He also is the chief liaison officer between Chabad and political and judicial systems in Dnipropetrovsk itself and the two oblasts.

Photo: the writer.



Acknowledging that cities without rabbinic leadership require more assistance, Mr. Romanov focuses on identifying potential leaders in these areas and training them to accept various responsibilities in their communities. Mr. Romanov and visiting rabbis teach basic Judaism and Jewish ritual to local Jews. Premises may be rented for a small community office and program center. Student rabbis are sent to all towns to conduct seders. The regional office provides matza and certain other holiday foods, but local businesspeople and seder participants finance the remainder of the seder, including fish and other food. In all, about 2,000 individuals attend these seders, Mr. Romanov said.


The regional office also distributes approximately 6,000 food parcels twice yearly - at Rosh Hashanah and at Purim/Pesach - to needy Jews in Dnipropetrovsk itself and in the 16 smaller Jewish population centers. Most recipients are elderly people, said Mr. Romanov, but invalids and large families also are given such aid. Financed by PrivatBank principal Hennady Boholubov, the parcels contain 15 to 16 items, including several types of canned fish, kosher sausage, cooking oil, buckwheat, sugar, and other staples.


Mr. Romanov stated that the Philanthropic Fund is trying to evaluate the real need for its various assistance programs. The costs are high, and it is likely that some aid recipients are taking advantage of the community by requesting and accepting support that they can afford to purchase or simply do not require. He estimated that 70 percent of those who receive the holiday food parcels are, in fact, impoverished, and derive great benefit from the parcels; they cannot afford to purchase many of the items in the gift bags. However, he continued, the Philanthropic Fund is aware that at least 25 percent of the recipients give some or all of the food to their neighbors. Further, said Mr. Romanov, it is known that some hesed clients who receive discount "smart cards" from the hesed also receive unreported remittances from relatives in Israel, Germany, or the United States.


Mr. Romanov expressed the concern that the Menorah Center itself may attract "superficial" Jews who will make unreasonable demands on the Jewish community. Many Jews, he acknowledged, will not enter a synagogue or associate with other demonstrably Jewish organizations. However, the Menorah Center is a public facility; its accessibility may embolden otherwise non-identifying Jews to seek favors or other assistance that is political, commercial, or otherwise inappropriate.


Security obviously is a major concern at the Menorah Center, stated Mr. Romanov. A meeting of more than 100 security officials was convened at the Center to discuss security matters, Mr. Romanov said. For now, they are satisfied with the visible, but unobtrusive security personnel who patrol the building and monitor events. However, the fact that many unidentified vehicles are parked on streets immediately adjacent to the Center generates continuing disquiet.


Asked about the general mood (настроение) in the area, Mr. Romanov focused on the Jewish population in his response. About 40,000 Jews reside in Dnipropetrovsk and Kirovohrad oblasts combined, he said; at maximum, he continued, only about 5,000 are active in Jewish communal affairs. Additional Jews may identify as Jews for major holidays, but are effectively self-isolated from Jewish life for the overwhelming majority of the year. Smaller Jewish population centers cannot sustain Jewish life, Mr. Romanov stated. Some such Jewish communities already have disappeared, and more will do so. Individuals may leave for economic opportunity in larger cities or abroad, rather than for specifically Jewish reasons, Mr. Romanov observed, but the Jewish element in these villages has ceased to exist nonetheless.


On a larger scale, the economy has a major impact on the decisions of Jews to remain in Ukraine or to leave. Economic conditions now are terrible, Mr. Romanov said. "All" young adults are leaving because they are unable to find work, he stated; middle-aged people are remaining because they do not want to start over in a strange country. However, if political conditions also deteriorate, continued Mr. Romanov, some middle-aged Jews will leave as well.



46. As Executive Director of the Chabad Federation of Jewish Communities in Ukraine, Rabbi Mayer Stambler travels to Chabad representations throughout the country. Times are difficult, he said. "We are trying to keep what we have," he continued, acknowledging a loss of donors and, consequently, the loss of some programs as well. "Even middle-class people want to leave" Ukraine, Rabbi Stambler stated. No one is happy. People are earning a fraction of their previous income; they are unable to afford vacations, some individuals who seemed solidly entrenched among the upper middle class can no longer afford to buy coffee in a coffee shop, he observed.


It appeared to him, Rabbi Stambler continued, that many formerly successful businessmen spent everything that they earned and never saved or invested for the future. Formerly successful Jewish entrepreneurs had found pleasure in helping others, stated Rabbi Stambler, and are frustrated at their current incapacity to be charitable.



Based in Dnipropetrovsk, Rabbi Mayer Stambler is Executive Director of the Chabad Federation of Jewish Communities in Ukraine. He also is an authority on Chabad Jewish education in the country.


Photo: Chabad.




47. 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.


Mr. Rostovtsev's office covered the opening of the Menorah Center in 2012 and continues to report on events held there. When asked about the impact of the Menorah Center on Dnipropetrovsk Jewish life, Mr. Rostovtsev responded that its impact has been limited so far. The Menorah Center is just a place, a public square (место, площадь), he said. It is centrally located and thus is used not only for Jewish events, such as weddings and concerts of Jewish music, but also for (secular) conferences of physicians, specialists in information technology, and other groups. Because it is open to the general public, it does not generate antisemitism, he continued. No one cares who built it.


[92] See pages 45-47 for more information about the Chabad Jewish day school in the city.

[93] See pages 70-72 for information about the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish Medical Center.

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