Betsy Gidwitx Reports

Ms. Godik stated that the UUJS data base includes 2,000 names. In response to a question, she said that most activists had been on Taglit (birthright Israel) trips to Israel, but few had participated in a MASA Israel program. UUJS would like to organize its own Taglit tours, she said.


Current UUJS leadership includes individuals from Kyiv, Odesa, and Zaporizhzhia, Ms. Godik responded to a question; however, a group of about five people in Kyiv actually make most decisions. UUJS has no permanent office. "Our office is my computer," said Ms. Godik, who added that the leadership group shares information by e-mail. A number of different Jewish organizations provide program venues as needed, Ms. Godik stated. She mentioned the Jewish Agency, the Jewish Fund of Ukraine, Nativ, and the Kyiv Jewish Community as the primary organizations that have accommodated UUJS programs.[131]


80. Building on the original STARS (Student Torah Alliance for Russian Speakers) concept, Rabbi Motti Neuwirth, who is associated with Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich and the Great Choral Synagogue on Schekavitskaya street in the Podil area of Kyiv, is constructing a new Jewish education program for Kyiv Jewish young adults. Within the past year, Rabbi Neuwirth obtained $80,000 for renovation of largely empty space in the basement of the synagogue community building into a Jewish student center.[132] Known as Morasha (Heb., heritage, legacy), the Center is small, but clean, modern, and well-furnished. Kosher refreshments are available. Its focus is on high-quality programs for Jewish students and young adults.


Morasha will pursue programs in several different directions concurrently, said Rabbi Neuwirth. The first is Jewish education at several different levels; some courses will be designed for prospective converts. The center also will offer social programs, such as a Jewish film club, Jewish cooking classes, and perhaps even guitar lessons. A third direction will be welfare-oriented and will include baking challah for needy Jews, visiting homebound Jewish elderly, and other welfare tasks. Fourth, Morasha will offer programs in personal development, including coaching, public speaking, and foreign languages. Another direction will offer Jewish-content trips and adventures, including trips to Israel, travel to Venice for Shabbat, etc. Finally, said Rabbi Neuwirth, Morasha will offer networking opportunities for young people in business and various professions.


Rabbi Mordechai Neuwirth, who directs student and young adult programs for Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, originally focused on graduates of Jewish day schools, but now works with a much broader constituency.


Photo: the writer.


One key to the entire program, acknowledged Rabbi Neuwirth, is the engagement of leaders and instructors who are talented and possess strong teaching skills. Another key. he continued, will be the issuance of membership cards so that some control can be maintained over access to the Center and its programs. He hopes that arrangements can be made with certain merchants, including gas station owners, to offer discounts for cardholders. Third, all participants will pay at least 30 percent of the cost of the programs in which they enroll; those who are fully employed will pay more.


The former STARS program exists, but in two offshoots that might not be recognized by the founders of STARS. The first is called Torah and Sushi; 30 to 40 young professionals gather once weekly for a discussion of the weekly Torah portion and current events through a Jewish lens. The atmosphere is warm, with substantial socializing, said Rabbi Neuwirth. This group also holds its own seder; at $15 per person, their seder is more expensive than many other seders, Rabbi Neuwirth stated, but he finds that young professionals are maturing and demand quality that can be attained only by higher fees.


The second STARS-related program, which Rabbi Neuwirth called STARS Intensive, is residential in structure. Three men or a married couple move into one of three apartments owned by the synagogue and participate in synagogue- and apartment-based learning and worship programs for 40 hours every week, including Shabbat. While engaged in this intensive educational experience, they maintain their regular jobs; in response to a question, Rabbi Neuwirth said that fields of outside employment to date include education, entertainment, factory work, and auto mechanics. Obviously, he continued, only serious people are asked to join this program; candidates are vetted and invited to join. Women, he said, have a somewhat less intensive learning experience, but they engage in social welfare work instead of certain classes taught only to men. The program also includes a one-month Israel module and a stipend. STARS Intensive probably will grow, Rabbi Neuwirth stated, as soon as they acquire another apartment; in fact, two more candidates have been identified, but the synagogue lacks housing for them.


His young adult initiative currently attracts about 400 people whose levels of involvement in various programs ranges from marginal to intensive. His target is 2,000 young Jews, Rabbi Neuwirth said.


Life in Kyiv is tough now, stated Rabbi Neuwirth. Many people are unemployed, many who are working are struggling. Certainly, many are unable to afford kosher food or to celebrate Jewish holidays. He has considered initiating a job development program, but such an initiative is too complex for him now.


Rabbi Neuwirth said that the original STARS program, with its emphasis on stipends for mere attendance, cheapens Jewish education and the goal of Jewish literacy. The only program under his supervision that currently carries a stipend is STARS Intensive because it makes so many demands on its participants.



81. The Galitzky Synagogue, constructed in 1909-1910, was used as a dining hall for a railroad equipment factory for much of the Soviet and early post-Soviet era. In 2001, after the factory began to decline under free market conditions, the synagogue was handed over to the Union of Jewish Religious Organizations of Ukraine (Об’єднання іудейських релігійних організацій Украіни), an organization that operates under the auspices of Chief Rabbi Yaakov Bleich. Negotiations for this transfer extended over several years.


Extensive renovation of the structure was supported by the Jewish Agency for Israel with a commitment from Rabbi Bleich that programs within the synagogue would be conducted according to religious Zionist philosophy. The Israeli and Zionist presence is highly visible throughout the building.


The writer met with Rabbi Pinchas Rosenfeld, who directs the Galitzky program, and his younger brother, Rabbi Mikhail Rosenfeld. The two brothers were born in Leningrad and emigrated to Israel with their parents. Both are university-educated and each became Jewishly observant on his own. They described themselves as strongly rooted in Russian culture.



The Galitzky synagogue is a brick structure located in an area once known as the Jewish Bazaar.









The prayer hall was configured to seat more than 400 people when the building was designed. The ground floor also includes a club room and several service areas. The second floor includes a balcony (from which this photo was taken), a single large classroom, offices, and several small program/service areas. The large classroom contains a significant Juda-ica library in locked, glass-fronted bookcases.


Photos: the writer.



[131] Most of these organizations are described below.

[132] According to Rabbi Neuwirth, Rabbi Bleich provided $40,000 from his general funds and private donors contributed another $40,000.

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