Betsy Gidwitx Reports

Visit To Jewish Communities
In Ukraine, Moldova
April, 1998


50. Rabbi Kaminezki has supported local Jewish children in distress for several years, renting apartments for them and finding appropriate adults to be caregivers. Family breakdown is common in the successor states, in part a consequence of a custom of marriage at an early age. An increasing number of Jewish families also appear to be afflicted with conditions impeding sound childcare, such as chronic health difficulties, mental instability, alcohol abuse, and/or narcotics addiction. Many youngsters live with a single parent or grandparent unable to cope with the needs of active, growing children.

With the support of an American donor, Rabbi Kaminezki opened two homes for such youngsters in 1997. The boys' home (пансион) is in a remodeled former synagogue and is currently at its capacity of 36 boys, six of whom sleep in each of six rooms. Rabbi Kaminezki anticipates assigning some older boys to a rental apartment as the need for this type of program continues to grow.36 He also hopes to purchase a second facility and remodel it according to the needs of boys who require such residential care. Mendel Karasik, an American who will receive smicha in the near future, appears to be a sensitive house leader for the boys.

The girls' home (пансион) is in a new building close to the day school. It currently accommodates 28 girls; its capacity is greater, but budgetary constraints deter acceptance of additional girls, unless an emergency arises as in the cases with boys noted above. Lena Kaplunskaya, daughter of the day school principal, administers the girls' home. When the writer visited the girls' home early one evening, an aerobics instructor was leading the girls in exercises.

Initially, Rabbi Kaminezki decided to accept children no younger than 10 years old. However, circumstances have forced acceptance of children as young as six. All children are enrolled in either the Jewish day school or the yeshiva school, and tutoring is available to those who need it. They attend the local Chabad summer camp and some visit their families on occasion.

Each home has four computers, games, a small library, arts and crafts materials, etc. Nutritious meals are served, and medical care and clothing are provided. Tight security is maintained. However, counseling services are inadequate and both facilities require additional furnishings.

Although Ukraine does not permit foreign adoption of its children or the departure for foreign study programs of youngsters under 16, Rabbi Kaminezki has been able to arrange Israeli adoptions of some of the younger orphaned children in his care. He anticipates that most youngsters in the homes will settle in Israel after finishing high school in Ukraine.

Maintenance of residential programs and all of the services required by growing children is very expensive. Rabbi Kaminezki is searching for additional and continuing funding in their support.

51. David Dolev directs the Israel Cultural Center in Dnipropetrovsk. Additionally, he carries the title of Second Secretary at the Embassy of Israel in Kyiv. Mr. Dolev, who is well regarded in Dnipropetrovsk, supervises a full schedule of classes and special events in a region extending from Zaporizhya to the south to Dniprodzerzhinsk to the north and Kirovograd to the west.

The Center sponsors 25 to 30 Hebrew ulpan classes at any time, each enrolling an average of 13 people. All teachers are local people who are visited periodically by Israeli trainers who remain in the area for about three months.

Having recently upgraded their 12 computers to Pentium MMX190 level, the Center is now teaching computer skills to 20 classes of 10 to 12 adults or adolescents. Each class meets twice weekly and all enrollees must also be studying Hebrew. Mr. Dolev said that most computer students are in their twenties and thirties. All teachers are local people.

The Center sponsors several clubs, including a business club in which potential olim learn about operating a small business in Israel. A large youth club meets once or twice weekly.

Mr. Dolev also supervises 20 Sunday schools in the region, including seven in Dnipropetrovsk. 250 to 300 children between the ages of seven and thirteen attend these schools; the curriculum includes Hebrew, Jewish tradition, and Jewish and Israeli history.37 Some also include music, art, or sports classes as an incentive to attract pupils. The Sunday school in Zaporizhya, which is considered one of the best in Ukraine, also offers parallel classes for parents. The director of this school is especially good and the teachers include the three Israelis currently teaching at the Zaporizhya day school. (See below.)

52. The office of the Jewish Agency for Israel in Dnipropetrovsk is headed by Alexander Vernik, whom the writer had met two years previously when he was stationed in Lviv. Mr. Vernik had arrived in Dnipropetrovsk from Lviv only eight days earlier in a complex and sensitive exchange of positions with Reuven Weinstein , a JAFI shaliach who moved to Lviv from Dnipropetrovsk. Mr. Vernik, who is likely to remain in Dnipropetrovsk only until the summer months, readily acknowledged his lack of familiarity with the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish scene, but nonetheless offered his opinion on various subjects.

He perceived Jewish life to be much more active in Dnipropetrovsk than in Lviv and observed that a real Jewish community appeared to be developing in Dnipropetrovsk. However, he said, the level of Zionism in many local Jewish institutions, especially Beit Chana, seemed to be quite low, a troubling situation because it is training teachers for Jewish schools and because JAFI is assisting it.38

Anatoly Datskovsky, a highly respected veteran local employee of JAFI, provided information about local aliyah prospects and JAFI programs. Mr. Datskovsky foresees a customary seasonal increase in aliyah in Dnipropetrovsk due to warmer weather. He said that aliyah might increase overall as well because the local economy is still deteriorating, JAFI is operating good aliyah programs in Israel (such as Naaleh, Aliyah 2000,39 etc.), and prospective olim can now obtain visas at the Israel Cultural Center, rather than travel to Kyiv, which is both expensive and time-consuming.

Regarding the local economy, Mr. Datskovsky said that 50 percent of the employed population had not received their salaries in six months. In any event, salaries are so low as to hold only symbolic value, and much of the local economy is based on barter arrangements. Mr. Datskovsky said that the major deterrent to aliyah is the lack of suitable housing in Israel. The recent closure of absorption centers by the Ministry of Absorption has not been helpful. Echoing a view broadly held in Ukraine and Russia, Mr. Datskovsky stated that the principal appeal of Germany as an emigration destination is its generous social benefits; Jewish departures to Germany are decreasing, he added.

Regarding JAFI activities in the region, Mr. Datskovsky said that the office supervises 20 different Hebrew-language ulpans, including three in Dnipropetrovsk, two in Donetsk,40 and one in each of 17 additional cities and towns in the region. In all, the ulpans currently offer 76 separate classes currently enrolling 1,960 adults and employing 53 teachers. Unfortunately, he said, a shortage of funds has forced a closure of several ulpans in Dnipropetrovsk, thus compelling students to travel long distances to classes. Given the inadequacies of local public transport, it is likely that the closures have caused a decrease in enrollment.

Mr. Datskovsky stated that JAFI will manage four summer camp sessions in Dnipropetrovsk, two for adolescents and two for students, and one camp session in Donetsk for adolescents. Each session will operate 12 days and 11 nights, including two Shabbats, and will enroll 150 participants.

JAFI also offers a number of clubs for potential olim. Its youth club is especially large and well-led, but a tight budget may force a curtailment of activities.41

53. Dnipropetrovsk is the administrative center for Joint Distribution Committee operations in eastern Ukraine, a large region covering five oblasts (Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhya, Donetsk, Lugansk, Poltava) and more than 30 cities and towns with some Jewish inhabitants.42 The total Jewish population of the region is probably about 200,000; the largest concentration, about 50,000, is in the city of Dnipropetrovsk.

The director of the Dnipropetrovsk JDC office is Rabbi Menachem Lepkivker, who previously served as onsite director of an education program in Kharkiv operated by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.43 In response to a question concerning differences between Kharkiv (where the writer had first met him in 1996) and Dnipropetrovsk, Rabbi Lepkivker said that he liked his work in both cities, but he didn't cry every night in Kharkiv as he has in Dnipropetrovsk. His immersion in the welfare needs of Dnipropetrovsk-area Jewry has been a very emotional experience.

36. An older couple accompanied by a boy came unannounced to the boys' home while the writer was visiting it. The boy was accepted in the home. Concurrently, Rabbi Kaminezki was in communication with Israeli authorities in Moscow who had contacted him about an abandoned boy in Birobidzhan, several thousand miles away. Rabbi Kaminezki agreed to accommodate the Birobidzhan youngster and was making arrangements for his transfer to Dnipropetrovsk.
37. Some of the teachers in these Sunday schools are education majors at Beit Chana.
38. In response to subsequent questions from the writer, Rabbi Meir Stambler, director of Beit Chana, said that Mr. Vernik had not yet visited Beit Chana. He had, however, called Rabbi Stambler to complain about the supposed lack of Zionism at the college. Rabbi Stambler said that Mr. Vernik was unaware of the Israeli components in the Beit Chana curriculum and that the conversation had become quite tense.
39. Participants in Aliyah 2000 are recruited for specific positions and guaranteed housing.
40. Located to the east of Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk is a major city of slightly over one million inhabitants and the administrative center of Donetsk oblast. Its economy based on overworked and underproducing coal mines (and related heavy industries), it is severely depressed and frequently in the news for strikes by unpaid miners and for mine disasters. The most recent mine explosion killed more than 60 workers in April 1998. About 13,000 Jews are believed to live in the city of Donetsk, 1,900 in Artemovsk, 1,600 in Mariupol, and 1,500 in Slavyansk. Smaller concentrations reside in Makayevka, Gorlovka, and several other oblast cities. Economic constraints forced Sochnut to withdraw an Israeli shaliach from Donetsk in 1996. A local person staffs a JAFI office in the city, which is visited periodically by the shaliach from Dnipropetrovsk.
41. Raviv Karasuk, a skilled Israeli youth worker, directs Dnipropetrovsk JAFI youth and student activities, including summer camps.
42. An oblast (область) is an administrative region in Ukraine (and Russia) with authority between that of a county and a state in the United States. Ukraine contains 26 oblasts, two of which are cities with oblast status; these are the capital city of Kyiv and the military district/seaport of Sevastopol. Kyiv oblast refers to territory around Kyiv, not the city itself. (Crimea has the status of a republic within Ukraine.)
43. See pages 52-53 below.

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