Betsy Gidwitx Reports

Antisemitism has neither increased nor decreased during the past year, Mr. Rostovtsev stated in response to a question. The rightwing Svoboda political party is rooted in western Ukraine and has little influence in Dnipropetrovsk, he commented.


Mr. Rostovtsev's office manages media relations for the Jewish community from a suite of offices, studios, and workrooms in the Menorah Center. The financial crisis has had a serious effect on its work, he said. Their budget was cut 40 percent, stated Mr. Rostovtsev, forcing them to use amateur photographers, rather than professionals, with their own cameras; often, he continued, these cameras are the ones on people's cell phones. People take photos at events and send them to the media center, hoping that they can be used. He does not have enough photographers on retainer to cover multiple concurrent events, such as Purim celebrations of different groups. He has applied for grants from several international organizations, Mr. Rostovtsev said, but he realizes that most organizations everywhere are having financial problems, so he is not optimistic about potential grant money. Mr. Rostovtsev pointed out that the furniture in his office is second-hand, donated by PrivatBank when it remodeled some of its premises and by the Israel Cultural Center, when the ICC moved most of its operations in eastern Ukraine to Kharkiv.[94]



Oleg Rostovtsev directs media relations for Jewish community organizations in Dnipropetrovsk. His primary client is the Chabad Philanthropic Fund.


Photo: the writer.


In response to a question about the general mood (настроение) in Dnipropetrovsk, Mr. Rostovtsev said that he was a pessimist last year.[95] He had not thought that conditions would get worse (хуже), that the crisis would become deeper (глубже), but the situation has indeed deteriorated. Perhaps the current year is one of adaptation to a new environment, he mused; perhaps some of the difficulties simply reflect the rapid growth of community infrastructure. In any case, he continued, it is impossible to be optimistic about the future.



National and International Jewish Organizations



48. The Dnipropetrovsk office of the Jewish Agency for Israel (Sochnut, JAFI) serves as headquarters for JAFI operations in all of eastern Ukraine. Another JAFI office, in Kharkiv, was reduced in size and status last year for budgetary reasons, but local coordinators continue to represent the Agency in Kharkiv, Donetsk, Krivoi Rog, and several other cities. The writer met with Ilana Shpak, an Israeli who supervises JAFI operations throughout eastern Ukraine, in the new JAFI premises in the Menorah Center. The premises include a modest multi-purpose room, several small conference rooms, a computer facility, and office space. When asked if the suite of rooms was cramped relative to JAFI needs, Ms. Shpak responded that JAFI rented additional space from the Menorah Center when required for large meetings or other events. Renting occasional space at the "community rate" offered to Jewish organizations was much less expensive than renting it as permanent premises, said Ms. Shpak.


The writer's visit coincided with a presentation by representatives of the Israeli company Iscar Metals to 35-40 local Jews who were interested in pursuing engineering careers at the noted Israeli company. In all, about 50 people would speak with company representatives during its recruitment stop in Dnipropetrovsk, Ms. Shpak said. When JAFI was informed by its Israel main office that Iscar would like to speak with Dnipropetrovsk Jews considering aliyah, JAFI called individuals in its registry who had expressed an interest in the type of work that Iscar offered. If Iscar and a candidate reached agreement on employment, JAF then arranged paperwork and transportation for aliyah.


Jewish Agency goals in its post-Soviet operations are to strengthen the Jewish identity of local Jews, bolster ties between local Jews and Israel, encourage aliyah (immigration) to Israel, and develop local Jewish leadership. It pursues four specific program strategies in pursuit of these goals, said Ms. Shpak. The first is operation of Jewish summer camps, with strong Jewish identity-building programs, for different age groups. The training of local young adults as counselors is part of the JAFI leadership development track, she continued. Ms. Shpak said that 260 children and youth from the area attended JAFI summer and/or winter camps in 2012; the 2013 total was likely to be lower, about 210, reflecting both financial constraints and demographic losses in these age cohorts, Ms. Shpak stated. The organization of winter camps, Shabbatonim, and other follow-up activities was dependent upon securing additional financial resources.


The second strategy is providing opportunities for young people to participate in Israel experiences, specifically Taglit (birthright Israel) and MASA. 120 individuals from the area participated in JAFI-organized Taglit tours in 2012, Ms. Shpak stated; the number for 2013 is likely to be lower as a result of 'competition' from other Taglit providers, such as Hillel, Nativ (government of Israel), and other groups.[96] However, continued Ms. Shpak, the number of MASA participants is likely to rise from 36 to in 2012-2013 to 60 in 2013-2014. Local conditions are spurring aliyah, she said, and many young people perceive MASA as an excellent way in which to explore opportunities for their future lives in Israel. Many new MASA programs have been developed, Ms. Shpak stated; young people must have a "supermarket" of options for their five- to 10-month stays in Israel. A recent MASA fair in Dnipropetrovsk drew 16 different MASA experience providers, she said. In addition to participating in a program that may be related to their career ambitions, Ms. Shpak noted, MASA young adults also learn Hebrew and live in apartments, buy and prepare their own food, and have other daily experiences similar to those of resident Israelis. About 50 percent of MASA participants remain in Israel as new immigrants after the conclusion of their MASA program, stated Ms. Shpak, and others settle in Israel after a brief return to Ukraine. Taglit, said Ms. Shpak, is emotion; MASA, she continued, is real life. (МАСА - это жизнь!)


The third strategy, continued Ms. Shpak, is the provision of opportunities for grassroots organizing and for leadership development. The goal of this strategy is to empower younger Jews to build a sustainable local Jewish community, recognizing that not all young Jews will leave Ukraine. JAFI currently is sponsoring four different grassroots "incubator" (Hamama) projects; among these is one fostering the development of android apps on Jewish topics and another that attempts to plan a local Jewish community of the future. Leadership development includes discussions on the responsibilities of leaders, identification of leadership skills, training in leadership skills, and supervised experience in leadership positions. Many veterans of leadership tracks become JAFI camp counselors, youth leaders, and full- or part-time employees of JAFI or other Jewish organizations. JAFI makes a special effort to recruit Taglit returnees to these ventures, said Ms. Shpak. Funding for these programs comes from the JAFI budget, the Pincus Fund of the Jewish Agency, and money raised by participants themselves.


The fourth strategy, Ms. Shpak, stated is encouragement of aliyah and preparation of aliyah candidates for a smooth absorption into Israeli society. Candidates are assisted in learning about employment opportunities in Israel and making contacts with potential employers, finding appropriate absorption programs in Israel, and becoming acquainted with various facets of daily life in Israel, such as the Israeli education system, medical insurance, the banking system, etc. Enrollment in local Hebrew ulpan courses while still in Ukraine also is encouraged.




Ilana Shpak began her tenure in eastern Ukraine in summer of 2012. She is well-respected in the region.


Photo: the writer.



In response to a question, Ms. Shpak said that JAFI is operating five ulpan groups in the region that enroll a total of 98 students. One such group is for university-age students only. Additionally, she noted, JAFI manages a Sunday school in Krivoi Rog; the school meets in the local synagogue at the invitation of the Chabad rabbi there, who does not charge them for the space.[97]


Local residents are employed as aliyah coordinators in major regional cities. Three coordinators work in Kharkiv, two in Donetsk, and one each in Krivoi Rog, Kremenchuk, Luhansk, Mariupol, Poltava, and Sumy. Kharkiv, with its large Jewish population and many universities and other institutions of higher education, is so important that Ms. Shpak spends three to six days in the city every month.[98] She visits Donetsk for two days every second month, she said. The local aliyah coordinators in each city are sufficiently competent, stated Ms. Shpak, that high-quality work is done without her immediate presence.


[94] See pages 86 and 100-101 about the Israel Cultural Center.

[95] See the author's Observations on Jewish Community Life in Ukraine - Report of a Visit in May 2012, pp. 37-38.

[96] Notwithstanding competition with Hillel for Taglit participants, relations between the two groups in Dnipropetrovsk are excellent. Rivalries with certain other organizations are stronger.

[97] See pages 101-103 for additional information about Krivoi Rog.

[98] See pages 88-101 for more information about Kharkiv.

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