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


Well-integrated into activities for Jewish elderly are several younger retarded Jewish adults. A mentally disturbed Jewish man, who lives in a Jewish community office a short distance away, was also visible on the synagogue premises. Rabbi Kaminezki has assumed responsibility for some of these individuals, having signed them out of institutions.

The Joint Distribution Committee subsidizes the canteen service at Beit Baruch. Other assistance has been provided by local Jews; for example, an owner of a store selling electronic equipment has donated television sets and VCRs.

39. Work has not yet begun on renovating the large Golden Rose choral synagogue, which was returned to the Jewish community late last year after a lengthy period of often acrimonious exchanges with the clothing factory that was using it as a warehouse. Rabbi Kaminezki would like to use the facility as a community hall and activities center. He is confident that he can raise funds locally for necessary remodeling.

40. Reflecting the continuing high rate of aliyah from Dnipropetrovsk, enrollment in the local Jewish day school has decreased from a high of about 800 pupils two years ago to 630 during the 1996-1997 school year. The school occupies two full buildings and a portion of a third on a campus of a former boarding school; its main building, in particular, is noteworthy for its cleanliness and for the pupil artwork that graces its interior.

Rabbi Kaminezki estimates that 65 percent to 75 percent of the pupils are from poor families, 20 percent to 25 percent are from middle class families, and about 10 percent are from relatively wealthy homes. The variation in income levels has led to some ‘competition’ in clothing among pupils, the wealthier children flaunting their affluence by wearing fash-ionable attire unavailable to the majority of youngsters. As a result, the school is phasing in uniforms. Younger girls are wearing a jade green ensemble consisting of a skirt, vest, and sweater (with a white blouse or jersey), which is manufactured locally. Older girls will wear a ‘more sophisticated’ outfit (also manufactured locally). Boys will wear a jacket, white shirt, tie, and dark trousers, all of which can be purchased in local stores. A clothing subsidy of up to 50 percent will be available to those youngsters in greatest need.

Dnipropetrovsk day school girls wearing uniforms

Following upgrading of the computer laboratory in 1996 and a weeklong ORT seminar for teachers and office staff in computer technology, classes in computer use are now an integral part of the school curriculum. The operating system is based on Windows 95, and a scanner is used in the preparation of various documents and publications. The school has employed a specialist in computer education, Leonid Moiseyevich Ganopolsky, to direct the computer program. Most school bookkeeping is also done on computers.

In common with the Chabad school in Kharkiv, the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish day school has introduced a chesed program in the school. Greater attention is being directed toward the moral upbringing (воспитание) of pupils. Directing this aspect of the curriculum is Larisa Anatolyevna Kirilenko, a veteran teacher.

41. The fulltime cheder now enrolls about 20 boys. About 55 percent are sons of the expatriate Chabad families now residing in Dnipropetrovsk, and the remainder are from local families. The section for younger boys meets in the Beit Chana michlala (see below). Rabbi Kaminezki expressed some surprise that so many local families with no history of Chabad affiliation have chosen this type of intensive religious study for their children, wondering if the main attraction of the section for younger boys is its location in an area poorly served by local kindergartens. He speculated that some families would transfer their sons to other schools once they outgrow the Beit Chana program.

Chabad intends to start a girls’ religious school during the 1997-1998 school year. Its likely location is the third building of the existing day school.

42. The Beit Chana Jewish Women’s Pedagogical Institute or michlala is concluding its second year of operation, enrolling 80 older adolescent girls and young women. With acquisition of a separate building for classes and conversion of the original combined classroom and dormitory facility into a dedicated residential structure, the number of students is expected to double in the 1997-1998 school year. The goal of the Institute is to train Russian-speaking women as teachers for the many available positions in local Jewish schools in Ukraine and elsewhere in the successor states.

Enrollment is recruited from Chabad communities throughout Ukraine and from several other post-Soviet successor states. Some students are graduates of Jewish day schools, but others have little or no Jewish background. Jewish tradition is a critical component of the curriculum. A four-year course of study is available to girls entering after completion of ninth grade and a two-year program is offered to girls who have finished eleventh grade. Current concentrations are in early childhood education and in elementary education. Those receiving diplomas in elementary education are considered qualified to teach both secular and Jewish subjects in the lower grades. A music education major will be added in 1997-1998. Final-year students participate in a two-month seminar in Israel. The institution is accredited by both Ukrainian and Israeli education authorities.

Older students gain experience as practice teachers in the local day school and Jewish kindergartens. They also participate in weekly seminars with master teachers. Their initial prac-tical experience in working with children usually occurs when they work as coun-selors in the Chabad sum-mer camp located near Dnipropetrovsk.

Chany Kaminezki, wife of Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki, is an experienced pre-school teacher and a mentor to Beit Chana students. She teaches a class at the pedagogical institute.

The Beit Chana school building contains 24 classrooms, a large library, assembly hall, and dining room. A classroom for teaching arts and crafts showed examples of great ingenuity in projects created from a variety of local materials. Students were learning how to work with paper, fabrics, plants, stones, and other surplus or discarded objects to make mosaics, masks, graphics, educational games, and other items.

The director of Beit Chana is Rabbi Meir Stambler. Instructors have been recruited both locally and from Israel. Echoing a concern heard throughout the post-Soviet successor states, Rabbi Stambler said that one of the most serious problems in Jewish education in Ukraine [and elsewhere in the successor states] is a lack of suitable Russian-language learning materials on Jewish topics for children. Beit Chana may develop its own materials.

The dormitory houses students in two-bedroom suites, each bedroom having two beds. Each suite has its own bathroom. The dormitory building also has its own kitchen and dining room, gymnasium, library, and computer room. Various cultural opportunities are available to students, including excursions to local theaters and concerts. One of the Israeli instructors teaches Israeli dance. Several teachers live at the dormitory and act as counselors to the students.

Students pay nothing for tuition, housing, meals, or medical care. They are also assisted in obtaining a suitable wardrobe for an Orthodox institution and in meeting other expenses. The cost of developing Beit Chana was borne by Or Avner, the organization established by Levi Levayev in support of Chabad activity in the post-Soviet successor states. As the institution moved into its operational stage, Or Avner continued to provide about 80 percent of its total budget. The Sochnut-related Pincus Fund and Rabbi Kaminezki contributed about 10 percent each. However, concern has mounted over the future viability of the institution as Levy Levayev is shifting more of his funds toward Jewish institutions in his native Central Asia. His continuing support is likely to cover no more than 50 percent of the Beit Chana budget.

43. Rabbi Kaminezki has supported abandoned, orphaned, and/or homeless local Jewish children for several years. Referred to in Russian as дети на улице, lit., children [who live] on the street or “street children”, the number of such children has grown dramatically as the Ukrainian economy has deteriorated.30 He is now caring for 36 Jewish street children -- 22 boys and 14 girls -- in apartments throughout Dnipropetrovsk. Several additional homeless girls who are old enough to enroll in Beit Chana are accommodated there. In September, Rabbi Kaminezki will open a newly-constructed home for 60 girls and a boys’ home with a capacity of 50 beds. The facility for girls is located within walking distance from the day school and also contains a new community mikveh.31 The boy’s home is in a former synagogue that has been gutted and re-built.32

Rabbi Kaminezki expects that the new facilities will accommodate Jewish street children from throughout eastern Ukraine and perhaps from some cities in Russia as well.33 The need for such arrangements is great, as public children’s homes are overcrowded and sometimes violent; Christian missionaries are working in some such institutions. Rabbi Kaminezki will encourage all youngsters in the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish homes to move to Israel at age 16.

The Dnipropetrovsk program currently receives no children younger than six years of age. Rabbi Kaminezki realizes that younger street children and/or other children at risk also need shelter, but he is not certain that he is able to provide appropriate care for them. He acknowledges that this matter requires further attention.

30. The problem is not limited to Ukraine. Moskovsky komsomolets reported in its issue of March 7, 1997, that 50,000 children are homeless in Moscow. Nezavisimaya gazeta, another Moscow newspaper, reported on April 9, 1997, that over one million children are homeless throughout Russia and that the level of child homelessness in 1997 exceeds that of the post-revolutionary and post-World War II periods.
31. The existing mikveh was constructed by Rabbi Kaminezki in the synagogue courtyard shortly after he arrived in Dnipropetrovsk in 1990. It has been difficult to maintain cleanliness in the structure as it also contains the only lavatory in the synagogue complex.
32. An American donor has provided $200,000 for construction of the new building for girls and somewhat less for remodeling of the synagogue that will accommodate boys.
33. Chabad rabbis in cities without such residential programs are likely to send local needy children to the Dnipropetrovsk program.

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