Betsy Gidwitx Reports

Asked what they like best about the program, parents said: the overall program is of high quality; the parents learn about subjects with which they were unfamiliar - Jewish history, the Holocaust, and Israel; and the madrichim (leaders) are very professional. The parents have become acquainted with each other and developed new friendships; they are almost like a large, extended family; their children are engaged in wholesome activities and have made new friends in the program. Youngsters said: they learn about future opportunities in Israel; the madrichim treat them very well; the madrichim don't yell at them, but help them when they don't understand something. The atmosphere in the program is very friendly. A boy said that he likes to learn Hebrew and that the additional lessons in English supplement his English classes in school. Another boy said that he lives close to the building in which the program meets.[168]

102. Amir Ben-Tzvi, who directs operations for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (Joint, JDC) in Kyiv and central/western Ukraine, was out of town during the writer's visit to Kyiv in April. However, she met with members of the JDC hesed staff (see pages 129-131) during this period. She met with Mr. Ben-Tzvi during a subsequent visit to Kyiv in June 2013.


Mr. Ben-Tzvi stated that JDC would be leaving its current office space in a somewhat shabby commercial building for new space that he had just leased in a better building in the Podil district of the city. He is still looking, he said, for quarters to temporarily re-house the hesed and Jewish community center while JDC decides how much it would like to invest in permanent new premises. Ideally, he continued, he would like to find a building that would accommodate the hesed on the ground floor and Jewish community/culture activities on a second floor. The current hesed building cannot be renovated to meet JDC needs.



Amir Ben-Tzvi, who earlier headed JDC operations in Dnipro-petrovsk for three years and now is completing three years in a similar position in Kyiv, will return to Israel before the end of 2013. He will assume new JDC responsibilities in the organization's Jerusalem headquarters.


Photo: the writer (in 2012).



Answering questions about the reduced client base at the hesed, as described by hesed professionals with whom the writer conferred earlier (see previously), Mr. Ben-Tzvi said that the JDC Kyiv area budget had been reduced in response to greater needs in Russia, Belarus, and Moldova. Decisions to increase or decrease services in a specific area usually reflect differences in local pensions, he said. JDC periodically examines pensions and purchasing power throughout its service area and changes service availability accordingly, Mr. Ben-Tzvi explained. In the Kyiv area, he said, a decision was reached to tighten eligibility criteria, thus reducing the client census. Further, the extent of services offered to those who retain eligibility also has been curtailed.


Six to eight percent of clients die in any given year, Mr. Ben-Tzvi stated. Usually, these are replaced by people on a waiting list. Most of those who die, he noted, are survivors of Nazi persecution and thus are recipients of services provided through the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany. Fewer new clients are Holocaust survivors and thus fewer are funded through the Claims Conference. Life expectancy of hesed clients, said Mr. Ben-Tzvi, is about 10 years longer than that of other Ukrainians.[169]


The hesed currently provides hot meals only to clients in its day center program, said Mr. Ben-Tzvi, although it subsidizes the hot meal program that Rabbi Asman offers at the Brodsky synagogue and another program operated by Rabbi Bleich. With support from World Jewish Relief of London, JDC has reinstated its warm home program, now offering tea and snacks (instead of full meals) to a maximum of 150 people in 12 different apartments in Kyiv and to additional people in eight more homes outside Kyiv, in such cities and towns as Chernihiv, Lviv, and Khmelnytskyi. The socialization opportunties offered in the warm homes are just as important to participating clients as more clinical welfare services, stated Mr. Ben-Tzvi.


The hesed also is attempting to assist elderly Jews in maintaining contact with family members who have moved abroad. About 10 individuals with access to home computers have been taught how to use Skype and other programs that ease communications. Another means of improved communications, said Mr. Ben-Tzvi, is enhanced use of mobile phones; a recent hesed study showed that about 40 percent of clients use mobile phones, so the hesed is trying to determine how this technology can be best employed to improve communications between the hesed and clients.


Changing the topic to Jewish renewal, the writer asked Mr. Ben-Tzvi to describe the highly publicized program for Jewish young adults known as Juice. Mr. Ben-Tzvi responded that he initiated Juice as a platform for Jewish young adults who are reticent about affiliating with established Jewish institutions, such as synagogues and, he acknowledged, JDC. He selected the name <Juice>, he said, because English-speaking young Ukrainians often pronounce the word <Jews> in such a way that it sounds like <juice>. In order to mollify Jewish young adult concern about associating with JDC, the visibility of JDC in the program is very low-key. However, he stated, a staff person in the JDC office coordinates Juice activities and the involvement of JDC in Juice is greater than many Juice participants would prefer.


A typical Juice event, said Mr. Ben-Tzvi, is a moderated chat with public figures. About 50 to 60 Jewish young adults attend such events, he continued, and an entrance fee is absolutely required. A Purim party attended by about 260 people had an additional fundraising element and raised approximately $5,000 for a diabetic child (identified by JDC) with serious medical issues. Juice also has provided networking opportunities with local businessmen. Juice advertises its programs in local Jewish media and Internet platforms. It holds some of its events in caf├ęs and private clubs.


All Juice programs, Mr. Ben-Tzvi continued, are discussed with a seven-person leadership council of Jewish young adults. In the future, said Mr. Ben-Tzvi, Juice must become "totally independent" and much more sophisticated than it is now.


The JDC Jewish Renewal program in general is very dependent upon development of a true Jewish community center, Mr. Ben-Tzvi stated. JDC has no space of its own in which to operate Jewish identity-building programs, he said.


Responding to a series of questions that the writer asked about the Jewish future in Kyiv, Mr. Ben-Tzvi predicted that "at least 50 percent" of current Jewish young adults in the city will leave. Not all of them will go to Israel, he stated, but the majority will leave the country and settle elsewhere to raise their families. He said that current JDC activity for young adults is "fun and games" and acknowledged that JDC programs (including Juice) contain no educational content about responsibility for vulnerable Jewish population groups that remain in the country. He concurred with the writer's view that the current JDC hesed system is not tenable in the long run, but offered no suggestions about development of a Jewish welfare system that might be viable in coming decades.




103. Jeremy Borovitz, a resident of New Jersey, was approaching the end of a one-year term as a Fellow in the Jewish Service Corps, a program operated by JDC. His main project, said Mr. Borovitz, was conducting research about former shtetls and making films describing his findings. He explored Buky (northeast of Uman) and Berezhany (west of Ternopil); in each case, he said, he worked with local non-Jewish high school students, doing research in local archives and interviewing senior citizens who remembered their former Jewish neighbors. The projects caused much excitement, Mr. Borovitz continued, because foreigners rarely visited these small towns. In socializing with local inhabitants, he learned that some people wanted Jews to return to their towns, believing that Jews would open new businesses and improve the local economy. The completed films, Mr. Borovitz said, would be shown at a film festival.



Jeremy Borovitz joined the Jewish Service Corps program of the Joint Distribution Committee after spending two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine. His father is an American rabbi and it is likely that he will enter a rabbinical seminary in the United States and "join the family business," he said.


Photo: the writer.


In addition to conducting his own projects, Mr. Borovitz assisted JDC in Kyiv with the Juice program, hosted Shabbat dinners and a Pesach seder for Hillel in Kyiv, and taught in a regional Jewish Sunday school in Korsun-Shevchenko. Responding to a comment from the writer about the extensive travel required to move from one of these assignments to another, Mr. Borovitz said that the logistics were greatly eased by access to a car and driver provided by JDC. Both JDC and his previous employer, the Peace Corps, prohibit employees from driving cars in Ukraine, a common policy among foreign organizations in the country.


Asked about his responsibilities in the Peace Corps, Mr. Borovitz said that he lived in a village and taught English in the village school. He also helped people in the village build modern sanitation facilities, i.e., toilets, and taught Jewish history whenever he could find people who were interested in it.


[168] Participants were aware that the primary funder of the program is the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and that the writer has a connection to that organization.

[169] As noted earlier, hesed services may play an important role in the longer life expectancy of some Jews, but other factors also are important; for example, most Jews live in large urban areas where health services are more accessible, and the educational level of Jews is believed to be substantially higher than that of non-Jews.


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