Betsy Gidwitx Reports


When asked about a yeshiva that he once sponsored within the synagogue, Rabbi Asman replied that he closed it. Jews in Ukraine, he said cryptically, need "normal" people as rabbis.[136]


In response to a question about Svoboda, the Ukrainian nationalist political party. Rabbi Asman stated that current economic distress had contributed greatly to its growth. Svoboda, he continued, is not a serious problem now, but it should be watched because it could become more dangerous in the future. Viktor Yuschenko, former president (2005-2010) of Ukraine, also was antisemitic, Rabbi Asman noted.


The general mood (настроение) in Ukraine is one of fear, responded Rabbi Asman to another query. Powerful individuals with strong ties to the current government confiscate businesses that belong to other people, this forcing some people who have prospered to flee the country. Many businessmen feel enormous pressure to take their profits and just leave, he said. Foreigners will not invest in such a business climate, he observed; there is a sense of instability and uncertainty. However, Rabbi Asman noted, religious observance remains without any constraints.



87. Rabbi Yonatan Markovich and Mrs. Ina Markovich are well known in Kyiv for the private Jewish day school and the school for autistic children that they operate.[137] However, they also lead a small Chabad synagogue with a modest welfare service. The synagogue has acquired its own building from the city, said Rabbi Markovich, but this structure needs significant renovation. Rabbi Moshe Gurevich, who is Mrs. Markovich's brother has organized a small yeshiva in the new premises, attracting seven young men to a program of concentrated Jewish study. They hope to start a Chabad House within the new building, the Marko-viches said.


Rabbi Yonatan and Mrs. Ina Markovich, he a native of far western Ukraine and she a native of Lenin-grad, met in Israel.


Photo: the writer.



The Markoviches stand apart from other Chabad rabbis in Ukraine; they are associated neither with the Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine nor with Rabbi Asman of the Brodsky synagogue. They have been criticised by some others affiliated with Chabad for their perceived aloofness, but it is likely that their higher education creates a barrier of sorts with other hasidic rabbis. Rabbi Markovich is a graduate of the Technion in Haifa and spent many years as a computer specialist in the Israeli Air Force; Mrs. Markovich also is a college graduate. They engage in substantial outreach, inviting local Jews to their home every Shabbat and also meet frequently with people of other religious backgrounds.



88. Rabbi Reuven Stamov arrived in Kyiv in March 2012 to provide rabbinic leadership to a nascent Masorti/Conservative Jewish community that had existed for some years, receiving guidance from visiting Israeli mentors. The community included a small activities center in Kyiv, a summer camp (known as Camp Ramah Yachad), and a day school in Chernivtsi, a city located in western Ukraine close to the border with Moldova. Rabbi Stamov and his wife Lena Stamov, who has a background in art and in Jewish education, have focused on building the Kyiv program and the summer camp since their arrival in the city.


Their Kyiv program, severely constrained by space limitations, includes kabbalat Shabbat, Mincha services, a family Sunday school with a strong arts component,[138] a Jewish-interest club for teenagers, a theater group on Jewish themes, a Hebrew ulpan with three sections, and various Jewish-interest groups, such as Jewish cooking. The largest single room in the premises seats 39 people, closely packed. Rabbi Stamov also reaches out to small Masorti groups in Berdychiv, Chernivtsi, Odesa, Donetsk, and Kharkiv.[139]


Rabbi Reuven Stamov was born and raised in Crimea. Mrs. Lena Stamov is a native of Kyiv who made aliya to Israel. The two met when Rabbi Stamov was studying in the Schechter Institute rabbinical school in Jerusalem.


Photo: the writer (in 2012).


In part due to space limitations, the Masorti welfare program remains very limited. However, they do operate a "free restaurant" every Friday evening, that is, a meal for those who attend the kabbalat Shabbat or Shabbat service. The Stamovs also provide limited individual assistance on a case-by-case basis to members of their community.


Camp Ramah Yachad convenes every summer for eight or nine days. Although the Stamovs had hoped to enroll about 80 campers in 2013 from their various communities in Ukraine at a site in Berdychiv, their actual census was significantly lower, reflecting financial constraints. In general, the Masorti effort in Ukraine is seriously underfunded.



89. Rabbi Aleksandr Dukhovny, a native of Kyiv, now leads the World Union for Progressive Judaism in Kyiv and Ukraine. He has directed the Kyiv Hatikvah Congregation for 14 years, succeeding a number of foreign-born rabbis who served in the position for much shorter periods of time. Rabbi Dukhovny completed his rabbinic training at the Rabbi Leo Baeck Rabbinic Training Seminary in London. Hatikvah, said Rabbi Dukhovny, now has about 500 active members, of whom approximately 150 pay regular dues. WUPJ continues to pay his salary, Rabbi Dukhovny said, but member dues are used to compensate a part-time cantor and pay for cleaning services. All members pay for participation in various festivals, he continued. The congregation employs various individuals in specialist positions, many on a part-time basis. All of these people are well-trained, having participated in various seminars operated by WUPJ or by other groups. Rabbi Dukhovny praised his lay leaders as well, some of whom also have attended various seminars and workshops. On Sunday evenings, stated Rabbi Dukhovny, the congregation gathers for a potluck dinner, Torah lessons, and various clubs and activities.


The writer's meeting with Rabbi Dukhovny took place in the not-yet completed new premises of Hatikvah Congregation and WUPJ Ukraine headquarters. Located on the fourth floor of a renovated building in Podil, the space is accessible by two different modern elevators, said Rabbi Dukhovny. It encompasses 412 square meters (4,435 square feet) and will accommodate a prayer hall (with a stage) seating 150 people, three classrooms, a youth center, library-lounge, kitchen, and storage area. Office space includes a room for a family center that will be directed by a psychologist. The premises are wired for modern electronic equipment. Jewish symbols are designed into walls and ceilings.


Rabbi Aleksandr Dukhovny has served the Progressive movement in Kyiv and Ukraine for 14 years. He is pictured here in front of packing cartons, then containing religious objects, teaching materials, and files. The movement was forced out of its previous quarters before the new premises were ready.


Photo: the writer.



The new premises would be completed and ready for occupancy in September 2013, stated Rabbi Dukhovny. Acqusition of the property and payment for renovations was contributed by three donors (from the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico), he continued. Guests can be accommodated at any of several different hotels in the area, Rabbi Dukhovny observed. He will need to work hard to develop programs that attract people into the new premises, he commented. He is eager to work with other Jewish groups and already has collaborated in activities with the Jewish Agency, JDC, Limmud, and Project Kesher. Additionally, he has developed good relations with several different foreign embassies, he stated.


In response to a question, Rabbi Dukhovny said that WUPJ would operate a number of different summer camp sessions, each accommodating at least 100 youngsters in specific age groups, at a site in the Carpathian Mountains in far western Ukraine. Serving all of the post-Soviet states, the different camp sessions would accommodate a total of about 600 youngsters in 10-day encampments.


Concerning the entire country of Ukraine, Rabbi Dukhovny stated that about 50 Progressive communities are registered with WUPJ. However, he said, not all of them are active or even have the capacity to become active. The World Union, he stated, provides financial assistance only to those that meet established criteria of program development and activism. The only other Progressive rabbi in the country currently divides his time among several congregations in Crimea, but a third rabbi is expected to be appointed to head the Odesa Reform congregation as soon as she finished rabbinical school.[140]


Rabbi Dukhovny stated that Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich continues to show disdain for him and for the Progressive movement in general; Rabbi Bleich cannot be considered a valid representative of Ukrainian Jewry, Rabbi Dukhovny said, because he respects only his own movement, i.e., Karlin-Stolin hasidism. On the other hand, averred Rabbi Dukhovny, he enjoys very good relations with Chabad Rabbi Yonatan Markovich, who always is pleasant and forthcoming. Chabad Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki of Dnipropetrovsk, perhaps the most powerful rabbi in all Ukraine, shook hands with him when they met at an event, Rabbi Dukhovny noted. As he had done previously, Rabbi Dukhovny expressed concern about competition from Masorti Rabbi Reuven Stamov and suggested again that leaders of the two movements convene in Jerusalem to divide spheres of influence in Kyiv between the Progressive/Reform and Masorti/Conservative movements.


[136] Rabbi Asman doubtless was referring to the severe beating of one of his yeshiva students in Kyiv last year. The young man was widely believed to been a drug dealer and to have been a victim of a drug deal gone awry. A number of young men attracted to yeshivas in the post-Soviet states have been impoverished individuals with various problems who are searching for free room and board.

[137] See pages 108-111.

[138] Mrs. Stamov observed that their congregation includes individuals who are accomplished teachers of music, dance, and drawing. They are willing to teach other members of the congregation for a relatively small fee. Many parents, said Mrs. Stamov, who would like their children to be exposed to these discipines cannot afford the cost of private lessons, so the arts component is a major attraction to families. As noted, Mrs. Stamov herself also has a strong background in art and art education.

[139] In September 2013, the Kyiv Masorti program center moved to larger premises in Podil. Rabbi Stamov secured a local donor to pay utilities charges in the new space.

[140] See pages 27-28.


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