Betsy Gidwitx Reports

Krivoi Rog (Krivyy Rih, Krivyy Rig)



Although the previous Ukrainian government strongly encouraged the Ukrainianization of all Ukrainian place names, the Russian name of Krivoi Rog has continued to be more commonly used than is Krivyy Rih, the Ukrainian equivalent. The city was founded in the 17th century as a Cossack village, but expanded rapidly in the late 19th century following discovery and exploitation of high-grade iron ore deposits in the area. Krivoi Rog stretches some 130 kilometers (81 miles) in length, connecting numerous mining sites, some of them now inactive. Production of iron and steel, chemicals, and engineering equipment dominate its economic base. Krivoi Rog is located ap-proximately 136 kilometers southwest of Dnipropetrovsk. Its general population in 2013 is about 664,000.


The Krivoi Rog steel mill pictured at right in 2005 has since been shut down, the fate of many industrial enterprises in the city.



Retrieved August 25, 2013.



65. The Jewish population of the city is estimated by local Jews to be between 7,000 and 10,000. The extreme linear nature of Krivoi Rog has impeded development of a sense of community among local Jews.



Jewish Education and Culture



66. The Ohr Avner Chabad day school enrolled 88 youngsters in grades one through 11 (with no grade 10) and another 37 children in a preschool during the 2012-2013 school year. Grade 10 was cancelled, explained Chabad Rabbi Liron Edri, an Israeli, because so many students at that grade level went to Israel in the Na'aleh program that too few remained to justify organization of a 10th grade class. The school occupies a modern two-building campus. The first edifice is a thoroughly renovated former three-building boarding school; the three small structures in that facility are connected through the construction of large, airy atria between buildings one and two and then between buildings two and three. Although better planning during the design process would have permitted the larger of the two atria to be used as a sports facility, that large space stands empty most of the time, used only occasionally for public gatherings. Instead, Rabbi Edri built a completely new second structure containing a large gymnasium (sports hall) and pre-school facilities. In common with its sister structure, the new building contains an excess of large empty spaces, extraordinarily wide hallways that branch out into other empty areas. Much of the vacant space is dark, as are occupied portions of the school premises, as users respond to urgent signs imploring people to save electricity by turning off lights.














The writer watched a physical education class in the sports hall at left. Ten girls were present, six of whom were sitting on benches. The remaining four were in pairs, one girl in each pair at each end of the gym; under the supervision of an apparent physical education instructor, each girl was attempting to throw tennis balls to her partner at the other end of the hall, a distance far too great for girls approximately 10 years old.


The space at right contains a play house with a living room, dining room, kitchen, bedrooms, etc. Each room is at least partially furnished. Pre-schoolers "play house" in the model rooms, although it is doubtful that many local youngsters actually live in such a spacious, modern home. The tall, dark structure in the middle is a model tree. The remainder of the large hall is empty. The building also contains a modern auditorium with a contemporary sound system. Modest income is derived from renting out the sports hall and auditorium to local groups.

Photos: the writer.


School premises also include a well-equipped outdoor playground and spacious playing fields, the most substantially developed outdoor sports area that the writer has seen at any Jewish day school in the post-Soviet states. As is the case with most Jewish day schools in Ukraine, the school is losing enrollment. Rabbi Edri recently changed its status from that of a private school to a public school so that it would be eligible for additional government aid. Few families were able to pay tuition costs of a private school. The change of status required the closure of an attached dormitory that accom-modated 10 to 15 youngsters from nearby smaller towns and/or unstable home situations.


67. Approximately 30 young adults are enrolled in the Krivoi Rog STARS (Student Torah Alliance for Russian Speakers) program, said Rabbi Edri. It is a good program, he commented, but, nonetheless, it doesn't produce the results that he would like to see. Very few young people remain engaged in the synagogue after they complete the stipend-based course of study.






68. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee operates a hesed and a Jewish community center in a small two-story building that was originally constructed as a nursery school. The structure has been significantly renovated and now includes an elevator. The writer was unable to visit the hesed.[114]



Synagogue-Related Programs



69. Rabbi Liron Edri, a Chabad rabbi from Israel, arrived in the city in late summer of 2001 and has proved to be a strong leader for a Jewish population that had little effective indigenous leadership at the time. He has been adept in working with local officials in obtaining suitable property for a Jewish day school and additional land for a new synagogue. (See below.) Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki assisted him in making contact with several individuals with Krivoi Rog roots who have provided financial support for these undertakings.


Rabbi Liron Edri, an Israeli, is an effective community rabbi in Krivoi Rog.


Photo: the writer.






A new synagogue was completed in 2010, funded by a former Krivoi Rog resident. It seats 180 individuals on the main floor, with a portable mechitsa (barrier separating men and women) used during the week. An upstairs women’s gallery accommodating 70 people is used on Shabbat. Unlike many other new or renovated synagogues in the post-Soviet states, the Krivoi Rog synagogue contains an elevator, which can be programmed for Shabbat.


Surrounding the prayer hall are a number of classrooms and meeting rooms that accommodate classes and clubs, a synagogue welfare office, a kosher food and Judaica store, a kitchen and dining facility, a small Jewish Agency office and a Jewish Agency Sunday school, and offices. A synagogue welfare program distributes food parcels, clothing, and some cash subsidies to needy individuals. A Jewish war veterans group also meets at the synagogue. A small, but well-designed local Jewish history museum occupies a room on the second floor. The synagogue also displays the work of contemporary local Jewish artists, some of whom have been able to attract purchasers through this exposure.



The synagogue in Krivoy Rog is a striking building located on a major street close to the Chabad day school.


Photo: Retrieved August 26, 2013.



Rabbi Edri described local Jews as very good people and generous; however, he continued, current economic conditions mean that no one has money with which to show their generosity. The closure of some local industries and downsizing of others has led to a general depression of salaries in the city by 25 percent. Far fewer people are receiving bonuses, so much less cash is circulating now than previously. Prior to the crisis, his costs were approximately $60,000 monthly, said Rabbi Edri. He now has cut back to $45,000 monthly; one outcome was dismissal of one of the four young rabbis from Israel who assist him in Jewish education and culture activity.


Young Jews are leaving Krivoi Rog, Rabbi Edri stated. He believes that the next decade will see the demise of smaller organized Jewish communities; only Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, and Odesa will be able to organize Jewish activity for those Jews of pre-retirement age who remain. In 10 years, only about 5,000 Jews will reside in Krivoi Rog, he said, and most of them will be older adults. When asked who would use his large day school buildings, he shook his head and said that he didn't know.


[114] For an account of the writer's visit to this facility in 2011, see her Observations on Jewish Community Life in Ukraine - Report of a Visit March 21-April 8, 2011, pages 84-85.

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