Betsy Gidwitx Reports


The conference and banquet facilities include two connecting ballrooms that together seat 1,500 people.  A tiered theater with a professional sound system accommodates 320 individuals.  Smaller conference rooms and informal meeting spaces exist throughout the complex. 


Office and meeting space in the Menorah Center is available to both commercial and community tenants according to a two-tier rent system.  Community groups (such as the Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and ORT) pay a discounted rate for permanent offices as well as for occasional additional space that may be leased by the hour or day for special purposes, such as a conference or dinner.  Commercial tenants paying a market rate include lawyers, an information technology company, and various shops. 


Svetlana Yermakova, manager of the Menorah Center, stated that 5,000 people pass through the complex every day.  Some work in the building, others attend meetings and conferences there, some participate in social/cultural activities operated by resident organizations, and some patronize Menorah Center restaurants or shops.  One of the newer tenants is an IT company previously located in Donetsk; fleeing the violence there, it moved to Dnipropetrovsk and found the Menorah Center well-suited to its needs.  Almost all space in the complex is leased, the exception - until recently - being a "difficult" two-story expanse that had been configured to specifications for a particular client who subsequently reneged on an oral agreement for the premises.  Now, said Ms. Yermakova, it was likely that a private company close to the community would build a loft into the area and use the loft and full floor below for back-office operations.  The private company would, of course, pay the full commercial rate.  Thirty to 40 percent of space in the Menorah Center is leased on commercial terms, continued Ms. Yermakova, and rent from these premises was sufficient to yield profit for the entire complex.



Alexander Miroshnik, chief engineer of the Menorah Center, and Sevetlana Yerma-kova, manager of the Center, flank a Chabad calendar in the management office of the complex.


Photo: the writer.


Both the main Menorah Hotel and the smaller budget hotel also are profitable, said Ms. Yermakova, each showing an occupancy rate of about 60 percent, a more than acceptable level for each facility.  The Menorah Center offers a high level of service to its tenants, she continued.  All mechanical systems in the complex are computer-controlled and very efficient. 

Questioned about security, Chief Engineer Alexander Miroshnik acknowledged that we live in "unstable times."  However, no security problems have ever occurred.  The complex was built with very strong columns that should be able to survive most bomb attacks, he said.  Security guards and cameras monitor the building 24 hours a day.  A fire sprinkler system is in place throughout the structure and all necessary fire safety measures are observed.  A minor electrical fire related to some misplaced cables occurred during the summer of 2014, he said; the building was evacuated according to plan and damage was minimal.


Ms. Yermakova and Mr. Miroshnik expressed optimism that the Menorah Center would continue to prosper.  They noted that its event and conference spaces already attracted about 90 percent of all local conferences.  It had hosted a major ballroom dance competition within the last week, and many theater events also occurred in its event spaces.  Dnipropetrovsk, they noted, is in the center of eastern Ukraine and is easily accessible from Kyiv as well; out-of-town participants in these gatherings could, and do, stay in the attached hotels.  Local people, they observed, consider the Center a "destination" and walk through it on Sundays, sometimes stopping in at the café or a particular shop.



Jewish Education and Culture



2.    Chabad operates two early childhood centers in the city, Ilana and Beit Tsindlicht. The Ilana center, named in memory of a former participant who died as a young child, enrolls about 40 children between the ages of one and three in a daycare program.  Beit Tsindlicht is a much larger endeavor, hosting 155 children between the ages of 2½ and six in a formal preschool program.   Almost all of the children are halachically Jewish, but some children in families where only the father is Jewish are accepted if the father is active in the Chabad community.  The family of Victor Pinchuk, a native of Dnipropetrovsk and oligarch who now lives in Kyiv, provided funding for Beit Tsindlicht, which is named in memory of Mr. Pinchuk's maternal grandparents.


Each of the two centers operates a daylong program, serving three full meals and a snack.  About 60 percent of families pay the minimum monthly tuition of 500 hryvnia (about $20 at the time of the writer's visit), a few pay the maximum sum of 1900 hryvnia (about $85), and some pay less than the minimum.  Notwithstanding the inability/unwillingness of some families to fulfill tuition requirements, the financial situation of the two programs is stable, said Yudit Baram, the principal of Beit Tsindlicht; the local Chabad Philanthropic Fund[12] subsidizes all Chabad education ventures in the city. 


Beit Tsindlicht children are placed in one of six sections based on age, language preference (Russian or Hebrew), and religious background.  Many of the Chabad families are Israelis and prefer that Hebrew be the primary teaching language, said Ms. Baram; thus, all children from religiously-observant families are in Hebrew-speaking classes, and most local children, who usually are from less traditional families, are in groups that use Russian as the primary language.  However, based on the writer's observations, Beit Tsindlicht sometimes appears reluctant to acknowledge differences in age and religious observance in the teaching of religion classes; on a single day in April, she visited four of the six classes, each of which was being taught about brit mila (circumcision), seemingly on the same educational level and using the same vocabu-lary.  Secular classes were taught on age-appropriate levels, using a Ukrainian state curriculum and workbooks.


Beit Tsindlicht encourages families of rising first graders to enroll their children in the Chabad day school (School #144, see below) and offers programs to familiarize parents with the school and ease the transition of children into the School #144 environment.  Youngsters from religiously observant families enter the attached machon for girls or the yeshiva katana for boys.  The transition usually is very smooth, said Ms. Baram, because the children know each other and even parents from secular backgrounds understand the policies of a Jewish day school.


Yudit Baram, far right, is an experienced Israeli specialist in early childhood education.  As principal of Beit Tsindlicht, she works closely with Natalia Kozar-inskaya, near right, a local woman, who is the Beit Tsindlicht administrator.


Photo: the writer.



Beit Tsindlicht employs 18 teachers, some of them on a part-time basis.  Most are local women who are graduates of Beit Chana.[13]  Some are Israelis who have completed training at Chabad teachers' colleges in Israel.  In addition to classroom teachers, Beit Chana also has a physical education teacher and a speech therapist on staff.


In response to a question, Ms. Baram said that Beit Tsindlicht has enrolled up to ten children from internally displaced families during the current school year.  Ten internally displaced youngsters entered Beit Tsindlicht in September, she stated, but seven of them have departed with their families since then to go to Israel.  Three remain.  Most of these youngsters are severely traumatized, Ms. Baram asserted.  Their parents also are extremely anxious, because few have been able to find suitable employment and most live in deplorable conditions here [in Dnipropetrovsk], unable to afford decent apartments or other necessities for a comfortable life.


Both Beit Tsindlicht and Ilana are operating at capacity, Ms. Baram noted.  Enough interest in these schools exists to open another full daycare/preschool program at a location on the other (east) side of the Dnepr River, but the Chabad community lacks the funds to develop the necessary infrastructure.



3.  School #144, which bears the formal name of Levi Yitzhak Schneerson Ohr Avner Jewish Day School, occupies a three-building campus that served as a boarding school during the Soviet period.  In all, the premises currently accommodate 403 youngsters, of whom 243 attend grades one through 11 (the conventional Ukrainian system) in the day school in the main building and 160 are enrolled in the machon and yeshiva katana that are housed in the smaller buildings.  Enrollment in the regular day school was 285 last year.  The roster of the machon and yeshiva katana has increased, particularly in the lower grades, since last year said Elena Krasnova, the principal of the day school.


The main building of School #144 is seen at left.  The girls' machon is behind this structure and the boys' yeshiva katana is to the left.


Photo: Chabad of Dnipropetrovsk.



In response to a question, Ms. Krasnova said that the current enrollment includes 21 internally displaced children across all three sections - the regular day school, the machon, and the yeshiva katana.  Some of these pupils attended the Chabad day school in Donetsk previously, but others entered School #144/machon/yeshiva with no previous Jewish education experience.  Tutoring in religious subjects is offered to the newcomers on Sundays, stated Ms. Krasnova.


New emphasis has been placed on improving teaching methodology during the past year, Ms. Krasnova stated.  Youngsters do well in city competitions in most subjects.  Notwithstanding budgetary problems, the school has obtained some new technology and now has five interactive whiteboards.  The ORT computer program is excellent; it now includes two computer laboratories in the main building and a sophisticated photo and sound lab that is located in the girls' machon, but is accessible to all.  The boys' yeshiva now has its own computer facility.  Pupils continue to do well at ORT and city IT competitions.


The Jewish studies curriculum includes three weekly class periods in Hebrew language instruction for all students.  Additionally, elementary school classes have three weekly lessons in Jewish tradition, and high school students have two weekly lessons in Jewish tradition.  All Jewish and Israeli holidays are observed.

[12]   See page 12.

[13]   See page 7.

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