Betsy Gidwitx Reports


Individuals and families, whom Rabbi Kaminezki has always counseled privately, are requesting much more assistance from the Jewish community this year than in the past, he said.  People are seeking funds for chemotherapy and other medical needs, general household expenses, and rent.  They also request his intervention with municipal authorities so that their utilities are not terminated for failure to pay their gas or other bills on time.  Attempting to find some humor in the unhappy situation, Rabbi Kaminezki described himself as the "Jewish community concierge," always on call for whatever is necessary.  All requests are thoroughly investigated before any assistance is given, said Rabbi Kaminezki.[63]


Antisemitism is not a major issue in Dnipropetrovsk, Rabbi Kaminezki stated.  Non-Jews are aware that the Jewish population is very patriotic, very pro-Ukraine.  The reality that local Jewish oligarchs - such as Ihor Kolomoisky, Hennadiy Boholubov, and Hennadiy Korban - are major financial supporters of the Ukrainian armed forces and wounded Ukrainian soldiers is well known and highly appreciated, said Rabbi Kaminezki.  Their generosity redounds to the benefit of the general Jewish population.  Further, Rabbi Kaminezki added, people are simply too concerned about other things to be antisemitic.  Whenever incidents do occur, he observed, both local police and Ukrainian state authorities are very cooperative in resolving the matter.



26.  Vyecheslav “Slavik” or “Zelig” Brez is the Executive Director (Исполнительный директор) of the Philanthropic Fund of the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish Community (Благотворительный  фонд Днепропетровского еврейского общины), which supports Chabad interests in the city.


Mr. Brez stated that the Philanthropic Fund annual budget, which stood at about $5 million in better years, was $4.3 million in 2013-2014, and is $3.6 million in 2014-2015.

(The budget excludes expenses for the Menorah Center, Beit Chana, the Jewish Medical Center, and certain other projects/programs that are financed separately.)   The considerable decline reflects fewer contributions, contributions of lesser value, community politics, changes in the currency exchange rate that are unfavorable to Ukraine, and inflation that is largely a product of the  confrontation with Russia.  At peak, 90 individuals contributed to the Philanthropic Fund annual campaign; the number of donors fell to 56 in 2013-2014 and further to 47 in 2014-2015.


Mr. Brez noted that some contributors lost income-producing properties in Donetsk, Luhansk, and/or Crimea; in Crimea, he said, Russians simply took over these buildings without any compensation to the rightful owners.  Further, he added, taxes have risen on almost everything as the Ukrainian government seeks to raise revenue.


In addition to lost income, the Philanthropic Fund has been faced with several new expenses.  First, internally displaced Jews from the Donetsk and Luhansk areas, as well as Crimea, continue to require services from the Jewish community; although many of the migrants have moved on, some still remain and probably will need assistance for an extended time.  Second, emergency provision of food, medicine, household goods, and other items to low-income local Jews now costs about $100,000 annually.  Third, the very small Jewish community of nearby Dniprodzerzhynsk, an impoverished and heavily polluted city to the northwest, is suffering in the current situation and now needs a significant subvention just to maintain basic services.  Fourth, about $20,000 was expended in establishing an office and other infrastructure for the new community mohel, Dr. Yakov Gasinovich, who also is a urologist.  Fifth, the residential yeshiva for boys still requires substantial subsidy.[64]    Finally, said Mr. Brez, having suspended the operation of Chabad summer camps last season due to financial duress, Chabad will offer a family camp session this summer for the sake of community morale; people need a vacation outside the city.  Chabad simply will have to find the funds to subsidize the participation of the majority of families unable to pay the full cost.


Given the name of Vyecheslav at birth, Mr. Brez adopted the name Zelig as he became involved in the Chabad community as an adult. He is still known to many as Slavik, a nickname derived from his original name.


Photo:  Retrieved June 27, 2013.



Expanding on the need for increased assistance to elderly people in the Jewish community, Mr. Brez said that a 15 percent state tax is now assessed to all pensions, which are supposed to be tax-free.  Further, certain financial benefits for veterans of World War II have been suspended.  People in their 80's and older had become accustomed to these bonuses and now find themselves much more at-risk than they had anticipated.


Mr. Brez expressed deep appreciation for assistance received from Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston through the kehilla/sister-city relationship between Dnipropetrovsk and Boston.[65]  Aware of the precarious economic situation in Dnipropetrovsk, CJP raised its annual allocation from $126,000 in 2014 to $250,000 in 2015.  Additionally, Mr. Brez continued, Boston is beginning to consider some assistance in developing Dnipropetrovsk as an IT center.


At the request of the writer, Mr. Brez addressed several specific issues.  Discussions are proceeding with advisors and potential financial supporters in Boston about the development of a downtown site for the Jewish Medical Center.  The original plan to locate it in the basement of the Menorah Center has been scrapped, said Mr. Brez, because available space in the basement is too small to accommodate all of the medical services that should be available in the center of the city.  They are now considering potential premises in the general office space of the Menorah Center, the old Jewish community center in back of the synagogue, and other nearby buildings.  Additionally, a smaller version of the existing JMC would remain in the Beit Baruch building because it is needed for the patients there.


The Jewish day school (School #144, which bears the formal name of Levi Yitzhak Schneerson Ohr Avner Jewish Day School) continues to improve.  Independent testing shows that measurable gains have been achieved in most subjects, grade inflation has ended, and problematic teachers are no longer at the school.  Mr. Brez believes that a new spirit is palpable in the school.


As reported earlier, the Microenterprise Loan Fund is extending loans again after a long hiatus due to the financial crisis in the city.  They are proceeding very cautiously.  It may be required in all future loans that recipients acquire competence in all computer applications necessary for the business ventures that they are pursuing.


Regarding internally displaced Jews from the Donetsk and Luhansk areas, as well as from Crimea, Mr. Brez said that the local Chabad community underwent a period of severe shock during the height of the IDP influx, from May through September of 2014.  The arrivals included a broad mix of people, ranging from poorly educated individuals with limited employment prospects to successful businessmen ready to transfer their businesses to Dnipropetrovsk.  A fairly large Jewish-owned IT firm is leasing space in the Menorah Center, and the local IT field generally has been enriched by many highly qualified IT specialists from Donetsk.  Health care also has been strengthened by the arrival of many capable physicians from the Donbas area.  Thirty to 40 IDP children are now enrolled in local Chabad schools; some of them had attended Chabad schools in the Donbas area previously, but others had no previous Jewish education.  None of these youngsters pays tuition, said Mr. Brez.


Many IDP families have emigrated to Israel, continued Mr. Brez.  Some with weak employment skills have had a very tough time in Dnipropetrovsk; generally, these are the individuals who remain dependent upon Chabad, although some have returned to the Donbas regions.


Asked about antisemitism, Mr. Brez said that it is almost non-existent in Dnipro-petrovsk.  The general population, he continued, is aware that oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky is Jewish - and they know that Mr. Kolomoisky and several other wealthy Jews are spending great sums of their own money in support of the Ukrainian defense effort.  Further, Mr. Brez commented, many of the most productive volunteers in the grassroots defense assistance organizations that have sprung up are Jews.  Mr. Brez believes that Mr. Kolomoisky and certain other prominent Jews are symbols of a strong Ukraine.  At another level, the Menorah Center is perceived as a community asset, providing clean, modern premises that are open to all people, regardless of ethnic origin.



27.  Ihor Romanov is Director of the regional office of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities (Объединение юдейских религиозных общин), the Chabad religious organization in Ukraine. The Dnipropetrovsk region includes 16 communities in Dnipropetrovsk and Kirovohrad oblasts with a total Jewish population of about 18,000 (not including Dnipropetrovsk). The role of the regional office is to bring Jewish life to Jews in towns in the area that do not have rabbis.  Only three cities of the 16 - Krivoi Rog, Kirovohrad, and Dniprodzerzhynsk[66] - have resident rabbis, Mr. Romanov noted.


The regional office extends support to these Jewish population centers for celebration of Jewish holidays, stated Mr. Romanov. For example, about 2,000 people in these towns attended Chabad-sponsored seders.    Mr. Romanov's office provided matza, wine, juice, and haggadot, as well as illustrated instructions on how to organize the seder table.  Local communities are expected to provide and prepare other food items, including meat, chicken, and/or fish.  Chabad sends a young rabbi or yeshiva student to lead the seder.  The office also provided program materials for Purim celebrations in eight of the 16 Jewish population centers.


Ihor Romanov represents Chabad in small Jewish population centers in Dnipropetrovsk and Kirovohrad oblasts. He also is the chief liaison officer between Chabad and political and judicial systems in Dnipropetrovsk and the two oblasts.


Photo: the writer.



For each of the last 11 years, Mr. Romanov continued, his office has distributed gift parcels of food to Jewish elderly and invalids twice yearly, at Rosh Hashanah and at Purim/Pesach.  Recognizing that the need for such food assistance has grown during the recent crisis, Chabad has increased both the number of packages distributed (from 5,700 to 6,000 in Dnipropetrovsk and the 16 smaller population centers combined) and the content of the packages.  The parcels include basic food staples, such as tins of fish, canned vegetables, pasta, cooking oil, and other items.  The total weight of each parcel is about 14 kg. (approximately 30 lbs.).  Hillel students deliver the packages to the recipients' homes.


Packed bags of food are stored temporarily in the Golden Rose Choral Synagogue in Dnipropetrovsk, awaiting distribution to needy Jews before Rosh Hashanah in 2015.



Photo:  Retrieved September 3, 2015.

[63] See the interview with Igor Romanov, pages 12-13, for information on routine assistance given to Jewish elderly in the city.

[64]   See pages 4-5.

[65] For further information about the kehilla relationship between the two communities, see pages 15. The general allocation does not include funds expended for the Microenterprise Loan Fund, the Big Brother/Big Sister program, or certain other projects.

[66]  Between 3,000 and 5,500 Jews live in each of these three cities.

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