Betsy Gidwitx Reports
Travel To Jewish Population Centers In Ukraine
March, April, 1997


Mr. Rashkovsky listed the Jewish population of the other towns in the Regional Association:

in southern Kyiv oblast -- Stavishche, 47; Zhashkov, 58; Skvyra, 150; Tarashcha, 17; Kagarlyk, 4; Rakitno, 47; Mironovka, 19; Boguslav, 185; Kanev, 150; Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky, 115

in Cherkasy oblast -- Talnoye, 57; Zvenigorodka, 130; Vatutino, 20; Shpola, 90; Zolotonosha, 130; Shevchenko, 20; Kamyanka, 60; Smela, 600; Gorodishche, 13

The majority of these individuals are elderly. Most do not receive pensions, because they were never properly registered or simply because the system has collapsed. JDC is very helpful, sending food parcels and operating “warm houses” in which 120 individuals are served hot meals, socialize, celebrate Jewish holidays, etc.

Two Sunday schools operate in the area. The school in Korsun-Shevchenko, of which Nachum Groisman is principal, enrolls 35 children from Korsun, Zvenigorodka, Kanev, and Vatutino. Those who live outside Korsun come by bus. The Sunday school curriculum includes Hebrew, Jewish history, Jewish tradition, Jewish holidays, and Jewish/Israeli music and dance. The other Sunday school is in Smela.

The Regional Association publishes a monthly newspaper, Надежда (Nadezhda or Hope; in Hebrew, Hatikvah). The newspaper features stories on Jewish life in small towns, Jewish holidays, and Jewish history.

The Regional Association also sponsors a renaissance bus, which visits a different small town every Sunday. The bus carries exhibits on Jewish life and brings a lecturer who speaks on a Jewish topic and a musical ensemble that plays Jewish music. E-mail correspondence between communities is encouraged, but few people have access to computers.

Most problems in small-town Jewish communal life stem from their overwhelming poverty. The material base for their Sunday schools is very weak; they lack textbooks, arts and crafts materials, tape recorders for help in teaching Hebrew, and a VCR. Everyone is poor. They need basic medicines, which no one can afford -- especially multivitamins for children and cardiology medicine for the elderly. Burial expenses cannot be borne by families of the deceased, and many elderly have no families. The Moriah Foundation has provided some assistance, and the Lishkat Hakesher has provided places for some of their Sunday school teachers in very helpful seminars.

Mr. Rashkovsky said that relations with local non-Jews are generally good. The Jewish community shares some of its welfare packages with local Ukrainians. Ukrainian nationalist activity does not exist in this area.

In response to a question, Mr. Rashkovsky said that 50 percent of the Jewish population will emigrate within ten years. Ninety percent of those who leave go to Israel and the rest go to the United States. The Regional Association works with Sochnut in promoting aliyah; it does most of the paper work, and it helps departing Jews sell their apartments. Nobody from this region goes to Germany.

For now, Mr. Rashkovsky remains in Korsun-Shevchenko because he is needed there. However, it is likely that he and his wife will make aliyah within five to ten years to join their daughter and her family in Israel.

Mr. Rashkovsky said that it is important that Jews in the West understand how Jews live in these small towns. Our visits strengthen them. They are also strengthened by occasional visits from representatives of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.


23. According to figures provided by the Regional Association of Jewish Organizations of Small Ukrainian Towns, 185 Jews live in Boguslav, a town in the southern part of Kiev oblast. Boris Avramovich Greenberg, the chairman of the Boguslav Jewish Society, told us that 240 local Jews are members of his organization. Mr. Greenberg said that Boguslav was an entirely Jewish town prior to World War II, then boasting a population of some 8,000. Almost 4,000 local Jews were killed during the Holocaust; about 1,800 Jews returned to the town after the War, but many left in the immediate postwar years because of terrible antisemitism from non-Jews who had moved into homes previously inhabited by Jews and because it was impossible to find work. The economic situation was so bad that many people were actually going hungry.

Now, said Mr. Greenberg, 98 percent of the Jewish population are pensioners (including Mr. Greenberg himself). Almost no one in the town works, even those of working age. State pensions are inadequate even to buy food. Because of the upheavals caused by World War II, many retired people were never able to start families of their own and thus have no adult children to help them. However, even many pensioners with children find that their children are unable to provide assistance or simply will not do so.

We met in the Boguslav Jewish Society office, several small rooms in a larger house. It was very expensive to maintain the office, said Mr. Greenberg, and drug addicts seem to congregate in the neighborhood of the office, frightening people and leaving syringes and other paraphernalia behind.

JDC provides substantial assistance to the Jewish Society. It has provided a Russian-language library on Jewish topics, which is “not too bad”. In cooperation with JDC, the Society provides hot meals on its own premises to 20 elderly Jews three days each week. Special meals are prepared for holidays. An additional 20 people are in need of daily meals, but the Society cannot afford to feed them. Although the Society has a stove, it lacks funds to buy a refrigerator, which complicates the purchase of food and its storage.

With funds from JDC, two patronage sisters assist 20 housebound elderly with cleaning, cooking, and other tasks. Through JDC, the Society is able to distribute food parcels, coal for heating, and gas canisters for cooking. The Society also is distributing matzos free of charge to all who are unable to pay for it.

Eleven elderly Jews died in recent months without any relatives to bury them. The Society provided proper and dignified burials for all, but it was very expensive. The local Jewish cemetery had been abandoned for 70 years during the Soviet era; some gravestones had been removed and used as paving material for local streets. The Society has cleaned the cemetery and erected a fence around it.

As in most small towns, a critical task for nascent Jewish organizations in the immediate post-Soviet period has been the amending of Soviet-built monuments to victims of World War II. In most areas, Soviet authorities erected non-descript monuments to generic “victims of fascism”. Mr. Greenberg escorted us to one-such monument in which the Jewish society engraved a Magen David at the top of the column and has tried to eradicate a hammer-and-sickle on its base. Nearby, the Society has erected a second monument with a huge Magen David at its top and has begun installing slabs with names of Jewish victims around its base. More funds are necessary to complete the project.


24. With a population of 1,555,000, Kharkiv is the second largest city in Ukraine. Its proximity to the Donets Coal Basin (Donbas) and Krivoy Rog iron range led to its development as a major center of heavy industry. Kharkiv also hosts a number of Ukrainian institutions of higher education. A city of unusual political complexity, Kharkiv was capital of Ukraine from 1921 to 1934. It is heavily russified, but also is home to groups representing UNA-UNSO (Ukrainian nationalists) and the Slavic Union (advocate of a united Slavic nation comprising Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine). Political oppression during the Soviet period was especially harsh in Kharkiv; some of the same security officials, including key leadership figures, remain at work today for the Ukrainian SBU. Although about 46,000 Jews are believed to live in Kharkiv (the fourth largest concentration, following Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Odesa), Kharkiv is seldom visited by foreign Jews. The Israel Center, a facility operated by the Lishkat Hakesher, had been gutted by firebomb during the night of February 19-20.

Kharkiv and Cincinnati are “sister cities,” a relationship that remains underdeveloped due to operating conditions in Kharkiv as well as a lack of commitment in Cincinnati. Nonetheless, the association between the two cities has prompted repeated visits by Sandra Spinner, a Cincinnati activist. Betsy Gidwitz has also visited the city on several occasions in recent years.

25. We met several times with Rabbi Moishe Moskowitz, Chief Rabbi of Kharkiv and Kharkiv oblast. Born in Caracas, Rabbi Moskowitz is affiliated with the Chabad movement. Rabbi Moskowitz said that, in general, “everything is quiet” in Kharkiv now. However, life is difficult; many people are exhausted from the struggle to make ends meet. Those who are doing well are preoccupied with doing better; they are very busy making money. Some unhealthy western values, such as hedonism, have taken root. Many of those Jews who are most interested in their Jewish heritage have emigrated. It is more difficult to attract people to Jewish activities now.

The SBU [Ukrainian successor to KGB] and other government officials are increasingly visible. Immediately following Ukrainian independence, they adopted lower profiles. However, they seem to have re-emerged and are taking new interest in Jewish communal activities.

Christian missionaries are also more active.26 Although [local] government officials have been helpful in the past regarding missionaries, many in the government do not understand the difference between genuine religions and cults. Among Jews, confusion is widespread about the difference between nationality and religion; because the Soviet regime considered Jewish ancestry to connote Jewish nationality, some people believe that one can be both Jewish by nationality and Christian by religion. Some Jews who convert to Christianity are shocked when Israel rejects their attempts to immigrate under the Law of Return.

26. Christian missionaries have been more aggressive in Kharkiv than in many other Ukrainian cities.

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