Betsy Gidwitx Reports




59. Instead of meeting with the director of the hesed in Kharkiv, as she usually does, the writer met with Oksana Galkevich, the outgoing director of all JDC operations in the Kharkiv region. Ms. Galkevich responded to the writer's questions about current hesed work with various at-risk population groups.[107]


As was the case last year, the hesed works with approximately 9,000 clients, the overwhelming majority of whom are elderly, in Kharkiv and the surrounding region. The proportion of elderly on their caseload who are not victims of Nazi persecution is now 53 percent and is growing as Nazi victims die. The financial implications of this situation are serious because only Nazi victims are eligible for support from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany.[108] Most elderly people in Kharkiv, Ms. Galkevich stated, are struggling. Inflation is eroding the value of their pensions; they lack purchasing power to obtain the food and medicine that they need, pay utility bills, and cover other needs. The smart card program of the hesed is helpful, she said, but it cannot cover normal expenses. Officially, responded Ms. Galkevich to a question, the rate of annual inflation is nine to ten percent, but real inflation is significantly higher.


The hesed is placing new emphasis on children-at-risk and on handicapped individuals between the ages of 20 and 50, said Ms. Galkevich. They have established a club for handicapped adults to improve socializing opportunities for this population group, and are trying to obtain a van that accommodates wheelchairs. The municipality has such a van, stated Ms. Galkevich, but it is not always available. She is hopeful that grant applications to Western foundations will yield funds to expand existing programs and create new ones.



Synagogue-Related Programs



60. Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz has served the Jewish population of Kharkiv for more than 20 years. A native of Caracas, Rabbi Moskovitz is among the veteran Chabad rabbis in the post-Soviet states and is highly respected in the city and beyond. In addition to the education programs noted earlier in this section, the Chabad community in Kharkiv owns and operates its own summer camp for children and also conducts a significant food assistance program for impoverished Jewish elderly.




Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz leads a major Chabad program in Kharkiv.


Photo: the writer.



The local Chabad community board consists of about 50 individuals, said Rabbi Moskovitz, most of whom give moderate contributions to the Chabad program on a steady basis. Oleksandr Feldman, a local oligarch and member of the Ukrainian Rada (Parliament) is the only major donor. (See below.) Several donors have suffered business reversals in the current economic crisis, Rabbi Moskovitz stated, and have reduced their gifts significantly. He has been unable to find any outside donors, such as Jewish federations in the United States[109] or Chabad patrons abroad. The financial situation is difficult, acknowledged Rabbi Moskovitz; currently, his major problem is obtaining funds for repairs to the synagogue roof.


Chabad continues to maintain a sizeable welfare program, including two dining halls - one in the synagogue and the other in the preschool/lower school building - that serve free hot lunches to a total of 100 Jewish elderly people every weekday. Additionally, Chabad provides free medical assistance to many local Jews, including funds for surgery and hospital expenses. The Joint Distribution Committee offers no financial subsidy to any of these programs, noted Rabbi Moskovitz, and appears to ignore many elderly Jews who need support. Chief among the areas in which the hesed has proved inadequate, Rabbi Moskovitz stated, are nutrition (specifically, hot meals) and socializing opportunities; a revived substantive warm home program would do much to address both of these issues, he observed. JDC has shown no capacity to respond to the current economic crisis, Rabbi Moskovitz said.


A major supporter of Chabad welfare efforts has been Oleksandr Feldman, who distributes approximately $15,000 to needy local Jews almost every month. Receiving petitioners at the synagogue, Mr. Feldman responds to requests for assistance with food, medicine, housing, and legal expenses. Mr. Feldman, continued Rabbi Moskovitz, is highly respected in the city, maintaining excellent relations with the mayor and with many other people, both Jews and non-Jews. In addition to his support of Jewish concerns, he also is a major donor to various civic projects.[110]


The synagogue building itself is one of the largest in Europe, designed by Jacob Gevirtz, a noted St. Petersburg architect, and constructed in 1903. It was used as a sports training facility during most of the Soviet regime and then left to deteriorate. Its interior was a mass of rubble when recovered by Rabbi Moskovitz. Its renovation to original specifications is considered a major achievement and a point of pride for many local Jews. It also is a significant tourist attraction.


Photo of synagogue exterior: Retrieved August 22, 2013.

Photo of synagogue prayer hall: Retrieved October 3, 2012.


In addition to a large prayer hall, the structure now includes: a basement with a large kitchen and dining hall, medical dispensary, and three classrooms; a ground floor with a sizeable lobby, the prayer hall, and offices; and two upper floors with a total of eight classrooms, several club rooms, and a library.


In response to a question, Rabbi Moskovitz described the general mood (настроение) in the city as gloomy. The worst part, he continued, is that people have no hope for the future; even young adults, he said, feel that that they are at a dead end (тупик). Many students are leaving the country. Jewish students and young adults enroll in the Jewish Agency MASA program to explore career opportunities in Israel. These young people, said Rabbi Moskovitz, have "one eye on [permanent] departure," an outlook that is "understood by all." Many graduates of Chabad school #170 have enrolled in MASA, selecting various programs that meet individual needs. The Chabad staff keeps in touch with these young people, Rabbi Moskovitz stated, and they know that "all of them are happy" with the choices that they have made.


Older Jewish adults may prefer to go to Germany, said Rabbi Moskovitz, because Germany provides very generous welfare benefits. However, younger Jews are not interested in emigrating to Germany; it is not "in", not "fashionable" for young people.


The move of the major office of the eastern Ukraine Israeli Consulate and attached Israel Culture Center[111] from Dnipropetrovsk to Kharkiv has boosted the self-confidence of local Jews, said Rabbi Moskovitz; the location of a major Israel institution in the city makes Kharkiv Jews feel more important. The Consulate and ICC are doing excellent work in local universities, enhancing the image of Israel as a scientific and high tech powerhouse.


In contrast, Rabbi Moskowitz stated, the Jewish Agency for Israel representation in the city has been downgraded significantly. The influence of JAFI in Kharkiv has declined accordingly.[112]


While acknowledging the economic crisis in the Kharkiv Jewish community, Rabbi Moskovitz said that the situation in smaller Jewish population centers is even worse. Their need for assistance is more acute, he stated, because the younger, more dynamic cohort of the Jewish population has left these areas, emptying them of productive community members and leaving weaker individuals behind. Some Chabad schools in smaller cities are closing, he said.



61. Chabad also conducts a prison chaplaincy service, visiting approximately 25 local Jews incarcerated in five local prisons, including a pre-trial detention center. The largest number appear to be in the detention center, said Rabbi Levi Raices, who directs the program, so he visits that facility most often; however, he also visits convicts in the other prisons at least once yearly. The detainees have included two former Chabad students and a Kharkiv-born Israeli.



[107] See pages 98-99 for more information about the meeting with Ms. Galkevich.

[108] Kharkiv is one of several cities in which tension has erupted between victims and non-victims of Nazis due to the higher level of service available to the former.

[109] A sister-city relationship exists between Kharkiv and Cincinnati, but its Jewish aspect has been dormant for some years.

[110] Oleksandr Feldman controls the massive Kharkiv Barabashovo wholesale and retail market as well as a number of other business concerns. See pages 140-141 regarding his work with the Ukrainian Jewish Committee.

[111] See pages 100-101.

[112] Financial constraints forced the Jewish Agency to trim its operations in Kharkiv, cutting back on personnel, programs, and physical space. Local coordinators now staff a diminished program in smaller premises. As noted in the section of this report on JAFI in Dnipropetrovsk (pages 83-84), the head office for JAFI activity in eastern Ukraine now is based in Dnipropetrovsk; the director of that office visits Kharkiv each month for a period of three to six days.

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