Betsy Gidwitx Reports

In response to a question, Ms. Yakimenko stated that two of the five girls graduating from the machon in 2013 would remain in Kharkiv and attend local institutions of higher education. One would attend a Chabad women's college in Moscow, another would attend a Chabad women's college in Zhytomyr, and the last would go to Israel.



56. Kharkiv Chabad operates a post-secondary school program for young women, enabling them to enroll in the local university/institute program of their choice while concurrently studying Jewish subjects in late afternoons and evenings at the synagogue. Known as Akademia, the program enrolled 12 young women in 2012-2013, an increase of two over the previous year. Participants range in age from 18 to 30, said program director Pearl Kolnak, and most are studying management specialties. Ten of the 12 young women are from Kharkiv; the other two are from Chernihiv. The Chernihiv young women, along with a machon student also from Chernihiv, and several local students from problematic home situations reside in an apartment maintained for them by the Chabad community. The other local young women commute from their parents' homes in the city.


Ms. Kolnak views the enrollment as stable; she was still evaluating applications for the 2013-2014 academic year at the time of the writer's visit in April, but observed that girls from Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzhya had expressed interest in the program, along with young women from Kharkiv itself. The major attraction of the program, she acknowledged, is that the synagogue community pays 80 percent of university/institute tuition for all participants. If young women prove to be capable students and take part in all Akademia religious and community service requirements, the Chabad community will extend a loan for the remaining 20 percent of tuition costs. If the participant is a weaker student and/or a lackluster participant in Chabad programs, she is responsible for the remaining 20 percent.


The Akademia religious and community service requirements are: participation in the Chabad STARS program on Sundays, additional Jewish studies classes three evenings each week, help with all Chabad Jewish community holiday celebrations, leading children's programs on Shabbat, and working as camp counselors at the Chabad summer camp and at a Chabad religious day camp before the residential camp season begins. Several graduates of the Akademia program, said Ms. Kolnak, have married religious boys whom they met through various community activities, thus fulfilling the major objective of the project.


Pearl Kolnak directs the Chabad Akademia program, which offers generous scholarships to young women who pursue concurrent academic degrees and Chabad religious study commitments.


Photo: the writer.




57. Lycée Sha’alavim is a struggling Jewish day school started in 1994 and then abandoned in 2009 by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU; New York). As a private school, the lycée receives some state funding, but less than that allocated to public schools (such as School #170). Further, a major component of OU support had been the assignment of three young adult modern Orthodox Jewish couples from Israel as Jewish studies teachers in the school; when the OU withdrew its support the Israelis returned to Israel, leaving the lycée without any qualified teachers of Jewish subjects.


Yevgeny Persky, who has been principal of the school since its inception, has invested great energy in attempting to maintain it as a competitive institution. He changed its denominational affiliation to Masorti (Conservative), which is more accepting of non-halachic Jewish youngsters as pupils. Enrollment during the 2012-2013 academic year was 120 pupils in grades one through eleven, a small increase over the previous year; approximately half of the 2012-2013 youngsters are halachically Jewish, said Mr. Persky. A separate tuition-based (approximately $250 monthly) preschool enrolls another 30 children, some of whom have no Jewish roots at all. So far, Mr. Persky stated, the enrollment of non-Jewish kids in the preschool has caused no problems; all children love Bible stories, he said, and they also like to participate in holiday celebrations.


The financial situation of the lycée remains shaky, Mr. Persky acknowledged. Although the school charges tuition, not all families can afford to pay. Rent for the building costs $24,000 annually, stated Mr. Persky. World Jewish Relief[106] has been very generous in providing financial support for some school programs addressing the needs of children with disabilities; he is "endlessly grateful" for their assistance, he said, but it has been decreasing in recent years and he recognizes that aid to day schools has never been a major WJR program priority. Parents of day school pupils have raised over $100,000 for the school, a major accomplishment for families that are not wealthy. Parents who cannot afford to donate funds contribute labor, such as cleaning and painting, and some friends of the school have contributed in-kind gifts, including food for school meals. Sha'alavim is running an annual deficit of $12,000 to $13,000, Mr. Persky said.


As a means of generating revenue, Sha'alavim organizes and accomodates several rehabilitation programs, including one for children with scoliosis and others for children with various educational issues. Some families pay privately, some programs are sponsored by the municipality, and several are subsidized by World Jewish Relief.


Midreshet Yerushalayim, the Russian-speaking arm of the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem, the major educational and theological institution of the Masorti/Conservative movement in Israel, has trained local teachers to teach Jewish studies in the school. Most of these teachers are graduates of Sha'alavim, said Mr. Persky, so they had some background in Judaism before their Masorti training. The Schechter Institute also provides teaching materials, Russian-language textbooks in Jewish studies, a limited number of scholarships for pupils to attend Camp Ramah Yachad in Ukraine, and seminars for Sha'alavim teachers, Mr. Persky noted. However, he continued, the Institute is unable to provide an operating subsidy to support the school.



Yevgeny Persky is constantly searching for sponsors to help fund the Sha'alavim Jewish day school in Kharkiv. He should engage a fundraising coordinator, he acknowledged, but he lacks the funds to do so.


Photo: the writer.


The Jewish Agency for Israel pays the salaries of teachers in a Jewish Sunday school that operates at Sha'alavim and extends non-financial assistance whenever it can. Additionally, Mr. Persky expressed respect for Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz (see below), who also has been helpful, even though the Sha'alavim and Chabad school #170 are, to some extent, rival day schools.


The Sha'alavim Jewish studies component ranges from three hours weekly for first graders to 10 hours weekly for grades nine through eleven. The subjects taught include Hebrew language, Jewish tradition, Jewish history, classic and modern Jewish literature, and Israel geography and ethnography. A "conflict" exists between offering a high-quality secular curriculum, stated Mr. Persky, and offering a strong Jewish studies program. However, because Sha'alavim can schedule a longer school day as a private school, this dilemma is managed more easily than would be possible in a public Jewish day school.


Mr. Persky observed that he has invested many years of his life in Sha'alvim. He has spent his own money and sought loans and outright gifts from family members and friends to meet school needs. At the time of this interview, he was seeking financial assistance not only to cover the school deficit, but also to renovate the school electrical system and address several other specific maintenance issues. It might be easier to find sponsors, he said, if the school had a fundraising coordinator, but he cannot afford to hire one.



58. The writer was unable to meet with Yulia Pototskaya, the longtime director of Kharkiv Hillel. Historically, Kharkiv Hillel has been one of the most creative Hillels in the post-Soviet states, reflecting the large number of Jewish students in this university city and the skills of Ms. Pototskaya.



[106] World Jewish Relief is a British organization. Its program in Ukraine focuses on assisting Jewish children. Although WJR delegations visit Ukraine fairly frequently, it maintains no permanent infrastructure in the country. It collaborates with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in some welfare programs.

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