Betsy Gidwitx Reports

Visit To Jewish Communities
In Ukraine, Moldova
April, 1998


Religious studies are super-vised by Rabbi Reuvin Chopin, a native of Russia who made aliyah some years ago. According to Rabbi Kaminezki, almost all of the boys will emigrate to Israel; some will complete high school in a religious high school under the auspices of Naaleh and others will enter post-secondary institutions ap-propriate to their needs and interests. It is not assumed that all of them will enter Chabad programs.33


Boys in the heder enjoy a painting class.

43. A machon for about eight girls of high school age was started in September 1997. It meets in the girls' boarding home (пансион; see Section 50 below) during the day when girls are in school. It will expand in enrollment at the high school level next year alongside a new elementary day school for girls from religious families. These classes probably will be held in the third building of the day school. The supervisor of the program for religious girls is Shulamit Chopin, wife of Rabbi Reuven Chopin.

44. The pre-school under the auspices of the Jewish community enrolls nearly 100 children between the ages of two and one-half and six at two sites. This program has a waiting list of 30 to 40 children.

45. The Beit Chana Jewish Women's Pedagogical Institute or michlala, is concluding its third year of operation, enrolling 120 older adolescent girls and young women from Ukraine and other post-Soviet states. The program offers a four-year curriculum for girls entering after ninth grade and a two-year curriculum for girls entering after eleventh grade. Its purpose is to train Russian-speaking young women in a tuition-free program for the many teaching positions available in Jewish preschools and elementary schools throughout the successor states. It offers study concentrations in pre-school education34 and elementary school education, both in secular and Jewish subjects. It added concentrations in music education and paraprofessional social work in 1997-98 and will include a special education concentration in 1998-99.

According to Beit Chana director Rabbi Meir Stambler, dormitory renovations may permit the enrollment of 150 students in 1998-99. The school has been forced to add a non-teaching major to the curriculum for girls who are unable to manage the academic intensity of the education program. Accordingly, the school is also training paraprofessional social workers who will work with Jewish elderly. Rabbi Stambler explained that some girls are so poorly prepared in small-town secondary schools that no amount of tutoring will enable them to cope with a dual curriculum of Judaic studies and education courses. Beit Chana feels obligated to help those girls who seek further education so a less demanding course of study was developed that will fit their needs, as well as prepare essential workers for the Jewish community.

Young women completing the education concentration attend a special seminar of two and one-half months at Machon Gold in Jerusalem during the late spring and summer. Classes are taught in Hebrew and provide a superb "immersion course" in Jewish studies. Students also tour Israel, spend time in religious kibbutzim, and enjoy Shabbat with religious families. However, the 1997 experience, which was the first since Beit Chana opened, was almost too good; all of the students wanted to stay in Israel, rather than return to the successor states where most had already agreed to accept specific positions in Jewish schools for the 1997-98 school year. Given their investment in the Beit Chana program and the promises made to the Jewish schools, Beit Chana officials felt that the students were obligated to return to the successor states.

After numerous discussions with the students, 29 of the 38 at Machon Gold agreed to return. Beit Chana is now requiring that all of its students sign contracts committing them to one year of service in the successor states for every two years that they study at Beit Chana. Following fulfillment of this obligation, Beit Chana will help all interested young women find positions in Israel. Rabbi Stambler expects that almost all will settle in Israel; some may want to teach in Israel, complete a university education at Bar-Ilan or another university, or follow another path. Rabbis in the post-Soviet communities where the 29 returnees are working are already helping these young women to move on to Israel upon completion of their teaching responsibilities.

Rabbi Stambler said that 70 percent of Beit Chana students are from broken homes. The major attractions of Beit Chana to them and their families are: free tuition, accommodations, and meals; a wholesome atmosphere; and, for those from small towns, a guided way out of the stifling atmosphere of small towns. The specific Judaic components attract few of them, and Rabbi Stambler is under no illusions that all of the young women will remain religiously observant. However, Beit Chana will have provided them with an education, a sense of direction, and self-confidence.

In addition to tuition, accommodations, and meals, Beit Chana provides students with medical care, clothing, and other assistance. Some girls arrive at the school with only the clothing that they are wearing and only sandals or bedroom slippers in place of shoes. Some have no knowledge of basic hygiene.

Students are recruited by Chabad rabbis and workers throughout the successor states, in Jewish secondary schools, through media advertisements, and through word of mouth. The current study body includes young women from many different communities in Ukraine, Russia, and Uzbekistan. Recent graduates are teaching in Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and Israel.

Young women in the education program do practice teaching in the local Chabad preschools and day school and in both secular and religious Sunday schools. Some also work as counselors in the local Chabad summer camp. Those in the paraprofessional social work program do field work on Fridays in an arrangement coordinated with JDC.

Rabbi Stambler said that 22 percent of the students are not Jewish according to halakha. It required two years for him to find a rabbi in Israel willing to approve a giur (conversion) program for such young women. Few rabbis in Israel, commented Rabbi Stambler, understand the reality of Jewish life after 70 years of communism and post-Soviet conditions. He continued by asking the rhetorical question increasingly heard in the successor states: How can anyone refuse a Jewish education to someone with the name of Rabinovich who has suffered from antisemitism her entire life?

46. The yeshiva university program continues, currently enrolling 35 young men who study religious subjects in the synagogue during the late afternoons and evenings while concurrently enrolled in a local university or other post-secondary institution. (The program is not related to Yeshiva University in New York.)

47. Rabbi Kaminezki and Rabbi Stambler, along with Or Avner (the support group for many Chabad activities in the successor states), will begin a paraprofessional rabbinic training program next fall.35 Some of the young men in the yeshiva university program will be invited to study full-time in a one-year program designed to train paraprofessional rabbis for Jewish population centers that are too small to attract ordained rabbis, such as Krivoi Rog, Dniprodzerzhinsk, Poltava, and Cherkassy. They also will serve in outlying districts of Dnipropetrovsk, where Chabad may open as many as four small synagogues. Participants will receive stipends of $120 each month while studying and a regular salary while working. They will be required to sign contracts committing them to at least one year of service in a designated Jewish population center. Rabbis Kaminezki and Stambler anticipate that some will remain in the successor states for several years, but that all participants eventually will emigrate to Israel. It is possible that some will enter a yeshiva in Israel, but unlikely that all will do so.

Selection of candidates will be facilitated by the reality that all have been studying in the afternoon/evening yeshiva program for several years and are known to Rabbis Kaminezki and Stambler. Rabbi Kaminezki listed several advantages of training local people for such positions: their compensation will be much less than that required for rabbis hired from abroad; they will be respected locally for their strong educational backgrounds in secular studies; they understand the local population; and they are amenable to local conditions.

48. The Dnipropetrovsk Jewish People's University (Днепропетровский еврейский народный университет) enrolls 41 adults and offers courses by local scholars in Jewish history, culture, and tradition. It is trying to develop extension branches in several nearby cities. Some of its instructors also give lectures at the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish Community Center. The People's University receives important support from JDC.

49. After several years of indifferent leadership, the Chabad youth group Tsivos Hashem appears to have found a qualified professional leader in Rabbi Yossi Glick, a native of England. The group held a Pesach camp at a facility near Dnipropetrovsk for 120 boys, half of whom were from Dnipropetrovsk. The other half had been recommended by Chabad rabbis in other cities in Ukraine and Russia. Yeshiva students from the United States and Israel served as counselors. A major purpose of the camp was to provide the boys with an authentic Pesach experience for the entire holiday, an occasion unlikely to have been observed in a traditional manner in their own homes. The camp schedule included informal Jewish education, sports, contests, and spirited singing.

33. The gymnasium (or 'sports hall', in Soviet/post-Soviet terminology) of the school remains on the ground floor of the second building, thus creating the visual incongruity of girls in gym clothing unavoidably mixing in the hallway with boys in yarmulkes and tzitzit.
34. The concentration in music education has led to the formation of an excellent choir of about 30 young women led by Iosif Nezvetsky, the choirmaster of the Dnipropetrovsk Opera. They perform a repertoire of Israeli and traditional Jewish songs.
35.Rabbi Meir Stambler is director of chinuch (education) for Or Avner.

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