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


Rabbi Moskowitz said that he is beginning to have some success in fundraising among local businessmen. These individuals are contributing to his general expenses, not to specific projects. Several foreigners have expressed interest in supporting the renovation of the synagogue; however, Rabbi Moskowitz is apprehensive about undertaking such a project because Eduard Khodos, a persistent troublemaker, is still occupying the second floor of the synagogue and is refusing to leave the premises. The behavior of Mr. Khodos is often confrontational.

Regarding local representations of international agencies, the Joint Distribution Committee is helping Rabbi Moskowitz provide hot meals to impoverished elderly Jews. Sixty were being served each day at the synagogue with food prepared onsite in a small kitchen. The kitchen at the Chabad kindergarten/primary school prepares 90 daily meals for Jewish elderly; 30 are served at the primary school, 30 more at the middle/high school, and 30 in a home delivery program.

Rabbi Moskowitz said that he had not had much contact with the local Sochnut representative. Alex Rosen, the current representative of the Lishkat Hakesher is a real mensch, the first such individual in all the time that the Lishka has been in Kharkiv. As for the firebombing of the Lishka center (known as the Israeli Center) in February, Rabbi Moskowitz said that two Ukrainian students, both 20 years old, were in custody. They had also firebombed Ukrainian and Russian cultural centers and were said to be admirers of the Irish Republican Army.

26. Chabad continues to publish a newspaper, Geula (Redemption), in Kharkiv. Twelve pages in length, the April issue included articles on Purim, the situation in Hebron (a translation from The Jerusalem Post), hasidic writings, the weekly Torah portions, Chabad history, the Jewish calendar, and Russian transliterations of Hebrew prayers. Publication is sponsored by Or Avner, the organization that funds many Chabad activities in the successor states.

27. The Chabad day school (School #170) enrolls 400 pupils in grades one through eleven and another 60 children in a preschool. Additionally, the school sends teachers to tutor 15 children in their own homes.

The preschool and grades one though five meet in a former nursery school building, which has extensive outdoor play space. The kitchen at this facility prepares meals for these children as well as those enrolled in the upper school.

Grades six through 11 are allocated two activity rooms on the first floor and all rooms on the third floor of a public school in another area of the city. The Chabad areas of the building are separated from the regular public school by floor-to-ceiling chain link fences. Computer facilities are minimal, consisting of five 386 workstations. Rabbi Moskowitz may try to enlist a Jewish organization in Caracas to raise money for an up-to-date computer laboratory.

In response to a question, Rabbi Moskowitz said that the majority of families who send their children to his school are poor. Hot meals provided by the school are a major attraction; the school serves lunch every day as well as a snack to those who stay until 5:00 p.m. in extended-day programs. Rabbi Moskowitz said that several youngsters have transferred to the Orthodox Union school (see below) because it gives more assis-tance, including clothing, to needy youngsters.

Kindergarten children eat lunch in Kharkiv Chabad school.

The school has recently initiated a volunteer program (school hesed) for pupils in grades six through 11. Participants meet weekly and on holidays in a club format; they work with Jewish elderly in the city, sometimes delivering food parcels to JDC clients. They also help with various holiday celebrations.

Of all the Orthodox day schools that we have visited in Ukraine, the Kharkiv Chabad school is the only large school in which classes are coeducational though high school (although boys and girls sit on different sides of classrooms) and in which no dress code appears to exist. Many high school girls were wearing pants and/or tight-fitting clothing.

28. A new Hillel program attracts Jewish students and intellectuals between the ages of 20 and 29. They meet on Sundays from noon to 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. at the Chabad school. Among their activities are Hebrew and English lessons, computer instruction, musical programs, theater productions, a film club, a Hillel newspaper, quiz games, Shabbat and holiday celebrations, and a volunteer program.

We met briefly with a group of Hillel members who were enrolled in various local universities and institutes. The Kharkiv Hillel group is the second in Ukraine, following establishment of the first in Kyiv several years ago.

29. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations (New York) operates a multi-faceted program in Kharkiv that focuses on Jewish adolescents and young adults. Rabbi Shlomo Assraf continues to direct the project from Israel, visiting Kharkiv from time to time. The effective on-site director at the time of our visit was Rabbi Menachem Lepkivker; however, Rabbi Lepkivker and his family were planning to return to Israel for Pesach and to remain there.

30. The cornerstone of the OU program is a lycee, Shaalavim, a private school educating youngsters in grades 7 through 11. The school may add a sixth grade next year. One hundred pupils were enrolled at the time of our visit in late March; 115 had been registered in September, but 15 had emigrated to Israel since then and Rabbi Lepkivker anticipated that more would depart before the end of the 1996-1997 school year.

The school is strongly Zionist in its orientation, encouraging youngsters to finish high school in Israel and to build their future lives in Israel. Of the 62 pupils enrolled in the lycee during the 1995-1996 school year, 38 had already gone to Israel. The curriculum features strong programs in both secular and Jewish studies; seven teachers from Israel instruct pupils in Hebrew and other Jewish courses. Six Israeli yeshiva students assist the regular teachers, thus enabling the school to offer individual and small-group tutoring to youngsters who require it. The school is able to attract excellent local teachers (not all of whom are Jewish) to teach secular subjects because classes are small and salaries are higher than in public schools and are paid on time.

Rabbi Lepkivker said that more than 90 percent of pupils attending the lycee are from poor families. School meals are a major attraction; pupils are fed breakfast, lunch, and a substantial snack in the late afternoon. Small classes, individual attention, instruction in four languages (Russian, Ukrainian, English, and Hebrew), a computer laboratory, free bus transportation, and preparation for a new future in Israel also appeal to adolescents and their families.

Youngsters and their families learn about the school through advertisements on television, on the subway, and other public venues. Potential pupils are also recruited at Jewish summer camps in Ukraine. The school provides dormitory accommodations for ten boys and ten girls, most of whom are from other cities in eastern Ukraine.

All Jewish youngsters who apply to the school are accepted, even if they are slow learners. “If we don’t help them,” asked Rabbi Lepkivker, “who will?” The individual attention available in the school has “saved” several boys and girls. Rabbi Lepkivker acknowledged that Judaism is alien to many pupils when they first enter the school; some are self-hating and resist the strong Jewish orientation of the lycee. The greatest accomplishment of the school, said Rabbi Lepkivker, is that Jewish pride is instilled in so many young Jews.

The lycee is housed in a former kindergarten building some distance from the center of Kharkov. The facility is large, allowing considerable room for enrollment growth. Although the OU has already invested heavily in remodeling and repair, the need for additional restoration is evident. The heating system was quite weak, leaving about half of the school very cold. Many pupils and teachers were wearing coats indoors.

31. The Orthodox Union also operates a two-storey youth center in the heart of the city. It includes several activity rooms, a synagogue, kitchen, dormitory facilities for 10 boys, and apartments for several of the Israeli teachers and their families. The teachers serve as houseparents to the boys in the dormitory. A newly-obtained third floor in the building is being remodeled to accommodate additional pupils and Israeli families.

The public rooms are used for synagogue services and extensive youth activities that peak on Shabbat and on Sundays. A group of about 25 university students meets there several times each week in the late afternoon for instruction in Jewish tradition and other Jewish subjects. The OU provides some financial assistance to each of the participants.

In a program sponsored by JDC, the kitchen in the center prepares 60 meals each day for elderly Jews. Thirty seniors eat at the center, and 30 more receive hot meals at home in a meals-on-wheels program.

As was the case at the OU school, the youth center was very cold

32. The OU also sponsors a summer camp in the Kharkiv region. The camp operates for three weeks and enrolls 250 youngsters.

30. We met with about 14 women of the Malka group in the apartment that serves as their office. Organized in 1993 by Svetlana Denisova, the group began as a women’s social club and later initiated selected welfare services to Kharkiv Jewish elderly. It was soon subsidized by the Joint Distribution Committee as its welfare service provider in the city. Predominantly retirees, the group seemed largely intact since our previous visit in 1995; notable additions are one younger new member and a secretary/bookkeeper hired by JDC. JDC has also provided the group with a computer for record-keeping.

The women said that the average local pension is between $25 and $30 monthly, which provides a diet of potato soup and bread. Few people pay rent because it is too expensive. Non-payment of rent has become acceptable, but tenants are expected to pay various common charges; the latter are very costly.

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