Betsy Gidwitx Reports



44.  The Hillel student organization plays an important role in the lives of Jewish students in Kharkiv, a university city.  According to Yulia Pototskaya, the longtime and respected Hillel director in Kharkiv, about 700 students participate in Hillel every year, representing almost every institution of higher education in the city.  About 220 of these participate at least once monthly.  Russian "political tourists" have created some danger in the streets after dark, said Ms. Pototskaya, so certain Hillel evening activities have been suspended.  However, everything is quiet in the office, she stated.


Asked about the mood of students during the current turbulent times, Ms. Pototskaya responded that many are afraid of war.  They are very anti-Russian, she said, perceiving Russia as the aggressor in the ongoing con-frontation.  Some Hillel students traveled to Kyiv to par-ticipate in the demonstrations on Maidan; one was wounded and is now recovering, stated Ms. Pototskaya.  Several Kharkiv Hillel students actually moved to Kyiv to volunteer as cooks for the protestors or to raise money for Ukraine. 



Yulia Pototskaya, the longtime Hillel director in Kharkiv, is very nervous about Russian actions and intentions in Ukraine.


Photo: the writer.



Ms. Pototskaya has met some of the Russian infiltrators who present themselves as students.  However, she averred, they do not speak or act like students.  It is clear to everyone that they are not ordinary university students.


Kharkiv Jewish young people, continued Ms. Pototskaya, are very apprehensive about the future, especially in Kharkiv, which is so close to the border with Russia.  Many are "sitting on their suitcases," seeking opportunities abroad.  There is great interest in the MASA internship in Israel program, she said.  It is likely, she continued, that those who go abroad for studies or for an internship will remain abroad.



45.  Beit Dan is a JDC-operated Jewish community center housed within a large JDC structure that opened in 2011.   Yanna Mastrenko, Director of Beit Dan, stated that activities of the Center focus on transmission of Jewish culture and tradition.  It aims to unify Kharkiv Jewish society, she continued, encompassing all age and interest groups.  Beit Dan attracts about 5,000 participants each month, using both the new building and an older facility, said Ms. Mastrenko.


A fee-based preschool located in the older building and designed to attract middle-class families enrolls 56 children between the ages of two and five, Ms. Mastrenko stated.[97]  Beit Dan also operates a program known as Mazel Tov for at-risk children of preschool age; although families with children in Mazel Tov often are underprivileged, they also pay a fee.  For school-age children, Beit Dan offers fee-based programs in various arts and in sports (although its facilities do not include a sports hall).  These and other age-appropriate activities are available throughout most of the day during school vacation periods, said Ms. Mastrenko.  Adolescents may participate in activities geared to their own age group, including volunteer projects (visiting elderly hesed clients in their homes, collecting gifts for children in orphanages, planning and operating holiday programs for orphanage children, etc.). 



Yanna Mastrenko directs Beit Dan, a JDC-operated Jewish com-munity center in Kharkiv.



Photo: the author.



Beit Dan also organizes holiday celebrations and concerts in its large multi-purpose room, which is equipped with a stage and advanced lighting and audio technology.  Among its other community activities are "Days of Jewish Culture" in the city, various discussion clubs and study circles, and a Знакомство Club ("Acquaintance" Club, i.e, a Jewish dating service)  "with good results," said Ms. Mastrenko.  Beit Dan also has organized a two-day Shabbaton at a nearby resort and, in the past, has organized summer family camps in Crimea.  Ms. Mastrenko said that the 2014 family camp had been scheduled for Crimea as well, but that Russian occupation of the territory probably renders those plans unrealistic.  A decision about an alternate site would be made by JDC officials elsewhere, not in Kharkiv.  In the meantime, "Мы ждем."  (We are waiting [for a decision by others.])






46.  The JDC hesed in Kharkiv serves 9,000 clients, including 400 who live in smaller Jewish population centers outside Kharkiv itself, stated Boris Murashkovsky, longtime hesed director.  The number of clients, he averred, continues to decline from year to year as JDC tightens requirements for assistance; further, no new clients are accepted in place of those who die.  The majority of clients - 8,000 - are elderly, 65 percent of whom are eligible for Claims Conference benefits as Holocaust survivors.  The additional benefits accorded Holocaust survivors generate great bitterness among those who escaped the Holocaust and thus are ineligible for these services; it is very difficult to explain this situation to non-recipient clients, Mr. Murashkovsky said. 1,800 clients received hesed home care, some for lengthy periods every day.


The hesed operates an extensive day care system, Mr. Murashkovsky explained.  Four groups of 18 senior adults come to the hesed once each week in hesed vans.  Between 40 and 45 disabled children also participate in hesed therapy in groups designed to meet the needs of youngsters with specific handicaps.  Also, he said, a special grant from World Jewish Relief[98] enables the hesed to provide programs for disabled Jewish young adults between the ages of 18 and 40; these clients are organized in three groups according to disability (mental, psychological, and physical) of six to eight people each.  Each cohort comes to the hesed twice weekly for therapy, recreation, socialization, and Jewish culture.



Boris Murashkovsky is one of the most experienced hesed
directors in the post-Soviet states.


Photo: the writer (in 2012).




In addition to structured day care for elderly clients, the hesed also offers ballroom dancing, a choir, a drama group, and other activities for elderly Jews who are mobile and can commute to the hesed on public transportation.  These programs provide socializing opportunities for people who have become isolated after retirement.


Asked about the impact of inflation on hesed programs, Mr. Murashkovsky responded that the previous exchange rate was eight hryvnia to one U.S. dollar and now is 12 hryvnia to one U.S. dollar.  The cost of utilities is set to increase 50 percent in May and the cost of most medicines already has increased 100 percent.  Pensions, he said, are being paid on time, but they have not increased to match the rate of inflation.  As director of the hesed, continued Mr. Murashkovsky, he is under pressure from employees to raise their salaries to accommodate inflation, but he lacks the resources to respond to these requests.


In addition to needing funds for salary adjustments, the hesed has great financial needs in other areas as well, Mr. Murashhkovsky stated.  In particular, he said, they require additional funding for home care, which is very expensive, and for trans-portation, that is, the vans that bring day care clients to the hesed and then return them to their homes.


Mr. Murashkovsky expressed gratitude for a special grant from World Jewish Relief (Britain), now in its second year, that finances the renovation and repair of up to 40 apartments for needy Jews annually.  WJR funds permit the upgrading of heating and plumbing systems, as well as general renovations.[99]


Mr. Murashkovsky said that people in Kharkiv are under very serious stress stemming from the Russian presence in their city.  Further, he stated, as residents of an area bordering on Russia, many Kharkiv citizens listen to Russian radio or watch Russian television, which are full of anti-Ukrainian "propaganda," such as, charges that Ukrainian leaders are fascists.  Such inflammatory language, Mr. Murashkovsky stated, fills people with dread.  Referring to the small Right Sektor political party, Mr. Murashkovsky averred that some fascists do exist in western Ukraine, but that such people do not reside in Kharkiv.  Antisemitism is not a problem in Kharkiv, he said.



[97]   JDC preschools typically resemble play groups, rather than early childhood educational centers.

[98]  World Jewish Relief is a British organization with an agenda similar to that of JDC.  It maintains no infrastructure in the post-Soviet states, but provides services through JDC.

[99]  Some residents of large post-Soviet cities, including Kharkiv. live in Soviet-era cottage complexes with a communal bath house.  In certain apartment buildings, multiple apartments share a single bathroom. The WJR grant provides for the installation of full bathrooms in such living units.

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