Betsy Gidwitx Reports

The aliyah rate from Dnipropetrovsk was 315 individuals in 2012, supplemented by another 29 students who went to Israel as participants in the Na'aleh or Selah programs and then changed their status to new immigrants while in Israel. Ms. Shpak said that the number of direct immigrants was likely to increase to about 360 in 2013. She added that the same number of people, 315 individuals, also made aliyah from Kharkiv in 2012.


In response to a question, Ms. Shpak said that the Consulate of Israel had transferred its eastern Ukraine operations from Dnipropetrovsk to Kharkiv at the end of 2012.[99] This change of location has complicated the aliyah process because candidates now must travel to either Kyiv or Kharkiv for Israeli visas and travel documents. Further, continued Ms. Shpak, the loss of the Consulate has led to the loss of Consulate participation in local holiday celebrations, such as Israel Independence Day. The cost of festivities now is borne by fewer organizations and thus is more expensive for each of the remaining co-sponsors (JAFI, usually JDC, and the religious community). The Israel Cultural Center attached to the Consulate has reduced its local operations substantially. Occasionally, Ms. Shpak stated, a representative of the Israel Cultural Center in Kyiv visits Dnipropetrovsk. Ms. Shpak said that she and others in the city have asked the Kyiv ICC to send a representative to the city on a regular monthly basis.



49. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee maintains its regional headquarters in a Dnipropetrovsk office directed by Esther Katz, a Russian-speaking Israeli who will complete her tenure in the city and return to Israel by the end of 2013. The regional office is located in a small commercial building that is separate from the hesed.[100]


Ms. Katz stated that JDC operates nine heseds in the region, serving 18,000 elderly clients and 3,000 to 4,000 at-risk children. Among the Jewish population centers covered are Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Luhansk, Dniprodzerzhinsk, Kremenchuk, Zaporizhzhya, Mariupol, and Krivoi Rog. The heseds help local Jews access medical care, distribute discount cards for use in participating grocery stores and pharmacies, and offer social services, such as day centers. Because arrangements for use of discount cards may not be possible in some smaller cities and towns, heseds may distribute actual food parcels and medicines in these areas. Ms. Katz said that JDC also has reinstated its popular warm home program in some cities, serving snacks and offering social programs to attendees who gather in private apartments.[101]


The JDC Tikvah program engages many Dnipropetrovsk special needs children and young adults in recreational activity and periodic animal therapy. Two seminars for parents of autistic children also have been held. Ms. Katz commented that the larger population has become much more aware of people with disabilities in recent years. Universities and pedagogical colleges now are offering more courses related to this population group, and individuals with professional training in the field are available for employment in social service agencies and educational institutions. Nonetheless, she continued, much more needs to be done, including expansion of employment opportunities for physically disabled individuals, elimination of architectural barriers, and provision of accessible transport. Ms. Katz noted that a "disabilities lobby" has emerged in Zaporizhzhia, with local people pressing the city for public transportation that accommodates disabled individuals. However, said Ms. Katz, other cities are less advanced; public schools generally decline to accept children with learning disabilities and often are unable to refer families to other programs. Alternative programs are few in number and generally severely overcrowded and low in quality. On another level, she commented, many parents still refuse to acknow-ledge that their child has issues, such as autism, blaming schools for his/her inability to conform or finding another excuse for unacceptable behavior; as a result, they do not seek whatever limited assistance is available and the child may remain at home.


Esther Katz soon will complete her tenure as director of JDC operations in Dnipropetrovsk and the surrounding area. Highly respected for her willingness to collaborate with other Jewish organizations, she will return to Israel before the end of 2013.


Photo: the writer.


Ms. Katz acknowledged greater cooperation in recent years between the JDC Tikvah program, the Beit Chana Special Needs Educational Resource Center, Boston funders, and Israeli consultants. Tikvah now participates in the continuing education program offered through Gordon College in Haifa, which was initiated by the Boston Jewish community for Beit Chana professionals.[102]


JDC also is offering a modest home-based preparatory vocational training program for low-income Jewish women that teaches basic computer skills and provides psychological counseling. Upon completion of this program, women should be ready to enter outside courses in hair styling and other skills. About 400 women in the region have completed the preparatory program in the last three years, Ms. Katz said.


Ms. Katz also noted a successful JDC leadership development program that focuses on young Jews in smaller Jewish population centers. With some financial support from the Pincus Fund of the Jewish Agency, JDC has trained approximately 25 Jewish young adults as youth leaders and educators for work in youth clubs, community centers, Sunday schools, and other settings. Generally, she continued, these activities are informal in nature and convene in former synagogues, such as one in Melitopol. In Simferopol (Crimea), young adults are involved in an intergenerational program in which they learn local Jewish history from older adults. A local leadership development group, said Ms. Katz, organized a regional Shabbaton for Tikvah participants and their families that included 150 people. The local young leaders were assisted by Hillel volunteers and visitors from the JDC Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps. However, she said, JDC is evaluating its leadership development program after a survey of such programs revealed that 40 percent of the young adults who had completed these courses no longer are in Ukraine; many had emigrated to Israel, some had moved to Russia, and others had emigrated to the United States.


In response to a question about the general mood (настроение) in the region, Ms. Katz said that many people are despondent. Generally, they are disturbed by political instability at the national level, she said, and they have no faith in the future. She observed that foreign purchasers of a major steel mill in Krivoi Rog had promised significant social benefits to their employees and to the city; however, they subsequently closed the plant, and all of the promised social benefits evaporated. She sees depression in the children of parents who need help, she continued, referring to these families as "the new poor".



50. As previously noted, the Consulate of Israel and its attached Israel Cultural Center moved its eastern Ukraine headquarter from Dnipropetrovsk to Kharkiv at the end of 2012. A skeletal Israel Culture Center remains, but operates few programs other than an adapted version of the Israeli Scouts that aims to attracted adolescents otherwise uninvolved in Jewish activity.



51. The sister-city relationship between the Boston and Dnipropetrovsk Jewish communities, various details of which are noted elsewhere in this section, was initiated in 1992[103] and today is the most comprehensive of any “kehilla” project connecting North American and post-Soviet Jewish population centers. It involves both Jewish and non-sectarian entities in each city, although most of the latter appear to have been promoted by Boston-area Jews. The relationship also includes some projects involving Haifa, Boston’s partner city in Israel.


The relationship is enabled by seven different Jewish organizations in the Boston area, all of which are associated in some way with Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, the Jewish federation in the Boston area. Action for Post-Soviet Jewry, an independent organization, created and manages the Adopt-a-Bubbe program; Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly is a general consultant on issues concerning elderly; and the Prozdor (community Hebrew high school) of Hebrew College manages the Havaya winter camp that enrolls Boston, Dnipropetrovsk, and Haifa teens. Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Boston advises its Dnipropetrovsk counterpart; the Jewish Family & Children's Service advises the Dnipropetrovsk Educational Resource Center for Children with Special Needs; and the Jewish Vocational Service advises the Microenterprise Initiative for Women. Hebrew Senior Life advises Beit Baruch, the geriatric clinic at the Jewish Medical Center, and a hip fracture and replacement program. All of these groups are linked through the Jewish Community Relations Council, a CJP constituent agency, which coordinates the entire kehilla program. JCRC itself also manages the English-language teaching consultancy for the Jewish day school, an assistance program for a women's medical clinic, and an assistance program for a children's medical clinic. (The latter two medical assistance programs address the needs of the general population of Dnipropetrovsk, not just its Jewish population.)


Although some refer to the relationship as a “partnership,” almost all initiatives and funding originate in Boston. The major funding source is an allocation from CJP to JCRC, although some programs - particularly Action for Post-Soviet Jewry - raise money separately. A Young Leadership group of CJP, in addition to CJP as a broader institution, also is involved. Unlike other relationships between North American Jewish federations and post-Soviet Jewish population centers, the Boston-Dnipropetrovsk relationship does not include collaborative projects with the Joint Distribution Committee (except for monthly teleconferences on special needs children), the Jewish Agency for Israel, or the Hillel student organization.


The kehilla relationship is managed by JCRC staff member Noga Nevel in Boston and Yan Sidelkovsky in Dnipropetrovsk.[104] In a meeting with Mr. Sidelkovsky, he praised his Boston counterpart, and noted that the Boston JCRC recently brought physicians from Harvard Medical School to participate in an in-service medical training program for some 300 local internists and pediatricians. The program, he noted, took place in the Menorah Center. A major Boston kehilla leadership delegation visits Dnipropetrovsk every year, and smaller specific interest groups visit more frequently.


[99] See page 100-101.

[100] See pages 64-66 for information about Hesed Menachem in Dnipropetrovsk.

[101] Observers said that the some of the reinstated warm home programs were suspended shortly after they were reactivated.

[102] See pages 53-55.

[103] The writer, who was living and working in Cambridge at the time, was one of two individuals who initiated the project under the auspices of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. The other founder, Dr. Judith Wolf, remains active in the partnership; her family has provided leadership and resources for the special needs program at Beit Chana.

[104] See pages 66-68 for more information about Yan and Tanya Sidelkovsky.

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