Betsy Gidwitx Reports

76. As noted previously, Rabbi Yaakov Bleich is closing his residential programs for children from unstable homes. Rabbi Moshe Asman, an independent Chabad rabbi, maintains a home for such children, accommodating 25 youngsters.[123]



77. Igor Turov directs a program in Jewish studies at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (NaUKMA) (Ukr: Національний університет «Києво-Могилянська академія» - НаУКМA). The program, said Dr. Turov, exists within the KMA Department of History, although its course offerings include subject matter in other disciplines as well. About 20 courses are available, but not all of them are taught in any one given year. In addition to Jewish history, the program also offers courses in Hebrew, Yiddish, Jewish philosophy, Bible, Midrash, hasidism, and various aspects of the Holocaust.


Between 20 and 30 different students, most of whom are majoring in Ukrainian history, currently are enrolled in one or more of these courses, said Dr. Turov. Those who are majoring in Jewish studies - usually one-third of the total number enrolled in Jewish studies classes - must complete four Jewish-focus courses for a degree, along with classes in a larger subject area, such as European history. Courses in basic Hebrew and classic Jewish texts are mandatory for majors. However, continued Dr. Turov, most students who wish to earn a Jewish studies degree take ten to 15 Jewish-focus courses. KMA is the only university in Ukraine to offer a degree program in Jewish studies, Dr. Turov said.


In response to a question, Dr. Turov said that 20 to 30 percent of all Jewish studies majors are Jewish. Generally, he continued, great interest in Jewish history exists among Ukrainian intellectuals, so one should not be surprised at the proportion of non-Jews in these classes.


Prospects for employment after earning a degree in Jewish studies are limited, stated Dr. Turov. Four of the 12 current lecturers in Jewish studies at KMA are themselves graduates of the KMA Jewish studies program. Others have found employment as lecturers or researchers at other institutions of higher education; however, many of these positions are part-time.[124] Several work in local Jewish community organizations.



Dr. Igor Turov earned a Ph.D. in history at Moscow State University of Oriental Studies. He also did graduate work for two years at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, studied Yiddish at Columbia University in New York, and completed a summer seminar at Brandeis University for professors of Israel studies. His current research is in hasidic teachings.


Photo: the writer.



The only steady source of financial support for the KMA Jewish studies program is a grant from the Ukrainian Va'ad,[125] replied Dr. Turov to a question. A grant from the Pincus Fund of the Jewish Agency for Israel that supported work of KMA Jewish studies students and lecturers in local Jewish day schools will end soon. The Jewish studies department receives no funding from KMA itself. Dr. Turov said that he is constantly seeking funds from various organizations and individuals.



78. Iosif Akselrud is the Director of Hillel CASE, the section of the Hillel student organization that oversees Hillel operations in Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan. He is less concerned with specific Hillel programs in Kyiv than with overall management issues, he said. He described his responsibilities as fundraising, staff deployment and training, and other large questions concerning the entire CASE area. Although aware of Hillel operations in Kyiv, his role transcends local issues.


Aware of the writer's interest in Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine, Mr. Akselrud stated that a Hillel group had finally been formally established in that city, which hosts many academic institutions.[126] Vadym Rabynovych, an oligarch of controversial background, has provided significant funding for the Kharkiv group through United Jewish Community of Ukraine, another group that Mr. Akselrud also directs.[127] Donetsk Hillel, continued Mr. Akselrud, has found a very capable local director and had already sent two groups of students on Taglit (birthright Israel) tours.


Another accomplishment, Mr. Akselrud said, was the operation of a year-long course for Hillel madrichim (leaders) that was conceived and operated as part of the JDC Buncher professional leadership development program. Twenty Hillel professionals - including people from Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Odesa - participated in this program and received diplomas.


The Hillel budget for the entire CASE area requires $1.5 million annually, stated Mr. Akselrud. At this point, he continued, $1.3 million is available. Three organizations together - Hillel International, the Schusterman Foundation, and JDC - have contributed $700,000. Mr. Akselrud himself, one of the more accomplished professional fundraisers in the post-Soviet states, has raised another $400,000, and the Genesis Philanthropy Group of Moscow has contributed $200,000. About $80,000 is needed for local programs, he said, and $120,000 is required elsewhere in the Hillel CASE area.


Iosif Akselrud, a successful administrator and fundraiser, is professionally involved in three different Ukrainian Jewish organizations Hillel, United Jewish Community of Ukraine, and Limmud.


Photo: the writer.




As he has done on previous occasions, Mr. Akselrud spoke with satisfaction of the local Hillel board, a lay group that he initiated and continues to advise. The 12-member Board meets twice annually, said Mr. Akselrud, and has set $60,000 as its current fundraising goal. It raised $45,000 for Hillel last year, he noted. Additionally, some Hillel students are trying to raise funds for the organization.


Mr. Akselrud continues to grapple with Jewish education programs within Hillel. When Hillel was established in the post-Soviet states in the 1990's, student interest in their Jewish heritage was very strong. Few of them had any background in Judaism, and they were eager to learn what their parents and nascent Jewish community organizations had been unable to teach them. Hillel established various programs in formal and informal Jewish education that appeared to sate their thirst for Jewish knowledge. However, over time, student interest in their heritage appeared to dissipate. Searching for new approaches to Jewish education that might attract interest from the current generation of Hillel members, Mr. Akselrud convened a committee of specialists in Jewish education for young adults and then engaged Rabbi Pinchas Rosenfeld of the Galitzky synagogue to develop a new education program.[128] Mr. Akselrud expressed satisfaction with Rabbi Rosenfeld's work.


More than 200 Jewish couples who met during Hillel activities have married during the past four years, stated Mr. Akselrud. Whether or not they wed other Hillel participants, most Hillel activists remain involved in Jewish life long after they leave Hillel, Mr. Akselrud continued. Unlike almost all other individuals interviewed by the writer during her current travels in Ukraine, Mr. Akselrud said that he saw no interest in emigration among Jewish young adults, no interest in aliyah to Israel.[129]



79. The Ukrainian Union of Jewish Students, which is affiliated with the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS), began to work in Ukraine in the 1990's, but suspended its activities after several years. It has since renewed operations in Ukraine under the volunteer leadership of Victoria Godik, who is employed professionally as an instructor in engineering management at a local university. Officially, Ms. Godik is Chairperson of UUJS, as well as a Vice President of the European Union of Jewish Students.


Asked to differentiate between UUJS and Hillel, Ms. Godik responded that, although the official age range for WUJS participants is between 18 and 35, UUJS intends to focus on post-university age Jewish young adults because this population group needs activities that are planned just for them. Further, she noted, unlike Hillel, UUJS has no paid employees, elects its officers in open elections, and participates in political activity in support of Israel. UUJS works together with the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, and is open to collaborative efforts with additional Jewish organizations.


Many UUJS activities attract participants from nearby countries, such as Moldova, Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, and Israel. Similarly, UUJS members attend events outside Ukraine. Most WUJS members, Ms. Godik noted, are working adults and thus have funds for travel during weekends and vacation periods. Among the UUJS activities are seminars on the Holocaust (sometimes in cooperation with the Ukrainian organization Lo Tishkach[130]), a seminar on Jewish history in the Chernobyl area (organized with support from the Genesis Philanthropy Group of Moscow), forums on Muslim-Jewish relations and on general human rights issues, a three-day "winter university" at a ski resort in the Carpathian Mountains (attracting 130 Russian-speaking Jewish young adults from 14 countries), and a seminar in Odesa on Odesa Jewish history. Purely social activities, such as Purim parties and Jewish speed dating, also are very popular, said Ms. Godik. Additionally, UUJS has held skills workshops, such as one on film editing that attracted 250 people.


Victoria Godik, age 30, is the volunteer chairperson of UUJS. Fluent in English, she repeatedly used the terms young adults and young professionals in referring to the target population of the organization. When asked how much time she devotes to UUJS, she responded, "a lot."


Photo: the writer.


[123] See pages 124-126 for an account of the remainder of the interview with Rabbi Asman.

[124] It is common in Ukraine and Russia for university lecturers to hold several part-time positions, shuttling between different departments in the same institution or between totally different institutions. Dr. Turov also noted that teaching positions at International Solomon University, a proprietary university in Kyiv, were imperiled as that institution appears to be near collapse. See the writer's Observations on Jewish Community Life in Ukraine- Report of a Visit March 21-April 8, 2011, pages 96-97.

[125] See pages 134-135 for more information about the Ukrainian Va'ad.

[126] Although not equivalent to Kharkiv in the number of academic institutions and students, Donetsk is an important academic center in Ukraine. Its role in Ukrainian higher education apparently was unknown to the JDC officials who actually initiated Hillel activity in the post-Soviet states in the 1990's.

[127] See pages 139-140.

[128] For more information on Mr. Akselrud's approach to this issue, see the writer's Observations on Jewish Community Life in Ukraine- Report of a Visit March 21-April 8, 2011, page 98. See also pages 117-120 in this report for an interview with Rabbi Pinchas Rosenfeld.

[129] The writer was unable to discuss this matter further with Mr. Akselrud. However, it is not uncommon for individuals who are raising funds for Jewish programs in the post-Soviet states to claim that the Jewish population is stable.

[130] See the writer's Observations on Jewish Community Life in Ukraine- Report of a Visit March 21-April 8, 2011, pages 103-106, for a description of Lo Tishkach.


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