Betsy Gidwitx Reports

Visit To Jewish Communities
In Ukraine, Moldova
April, 1998


Although the $1.5 million sum of his budget may sound impressive, said Rabbi Lepkivker, it is far from enough to cover the needs of the regional Jewish population. The JDC agenda in the municipality of Dnipropetrovsk is among the more extensive in the transition states, embracing both welfare and one of the larger community center (общинный центр; obshchiny tsentr) programs in any post-Soviet city. In fact, the relatively large and spacious building of Shaarei Hesed is now called the общинный центр, rather than Shaarei Hesed.44

Concentrating on JDC operations in Dnipropetrovsk, Rabbi Lepkivker stated that its welfare services provide over 1,200 needy individuals with hot meals at least five days weekly at a total of seven different sites. Another 1,000+ meals-on-wheels are provided to homebound elderly. Nearly 7,500 people have received food parcels thus far this year, and 3,300 individuals received winter relief kits. Patronage services (homecare, including shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc.) are provided to over 300 elderly clients.

Shaarei Hesed also offers various health care services to more than 400 elderly. This program includes medical exams in the community center's own medical offices or in regular clinics and hospitals; provision of free and/or subsidized medications; inexpensive rental of medical equipment, such as wheelchairs and walkers; and such services as repair of home appliances and home plumbing, hairdressing, and legal advice. A day care center for Jewish elderly has recently started operations at the hesed, its enrollment limited by budgetary and transportation constraints. Other programs for the elderly include Shabbat and holiday programs, lectures on various topics, several clubs, a choir, and physical training sessions.

As noted elsewhere in this report on Dnipropetrovsk, a hesed club at the Jewish day school participates in the provision of services to Jewish elderly. Some youngsters deliver food parcels to hesed clients and visit older Jews on Fridays. JDC works with the paraprofessional social work training curriculum at Beit Chana and supervises the new Ner Shabbat program in which Beit Chana students take challahs and Shabbat candles to Jewish elderly every week.

The Dnipropetrovsk hesed was the first in the transition states to offer programs to handicapped children, focusing on those with cerebral palsy and developmental problems.45 Because local schools will not attempt to educate or train such youngsters, most are isolated at home in the care of parents thus forced to forgo employment.46  Almost unavoidable under such circumstances are family instability and impoverishment. Beginning with 12 children two years ago, the Tikvah Club at the hesed now is overwhelmed with 80 such youngsters, far more than its meager resources can serve adequately. It attempts to provide various medical, therapeutic, educational, recreational, and social programs for children and support services for their desperate parents. Many families also require clothing, household items, and general welfare assistance. However, Tikvah lacks qualified professional personnel, appropriate educational materials and toys, adequate space, and financial resources. Rabbi Kaminezki provides some support through a special class at the Jewish day school for a few of the youngsters and special sessions of his summer camp for many Tikvah children and their parents.

Rabbi Lepkivker regards inclusion of handicapped young children in the hesed alongside elderly clients as psychologically questionable. He intends to transfer the Tikvah program into the community center segment of JDC services.

Rabbi Lepkivker believes that JDC must strengthen its efforts in Jewish renewal among children, youth, and young and middle-age adults. He thinks that it is possible to build a Jewish community in Dnipropetrovsk over the next 10 to 20 years for those Jews who will remain in the city. It is "our responsibility" (наша ответсвенность) to raise the Jewish consciousness of the many Jews who believe that assimilation is desirable (because it reduces antisemitism), he declared. The community center segment of JDC programming is key to this effort.

Irina Sviridenko supervises the community center sector in space that is inadequate and also inefficiently utilized. Nonetheless, it has more room than exists for such activity in JDC facilities in many other communities. Its children's and youth activities include the Simcha creative arts classes, children's theater group, Tsivos Hashem club, a medically-supervised exercise program for children with scoliosis, and Jewish holiday celebrations. A youth club involves 60 adolescents, 20 of whom participate on a regular basis. A Hillel program for local students also is based at the community center.

A major goal of the community center is to attract individuals in the emerging Jewish middle class between the ages of 25 and 55. Few such people are involved in any Jewish activity. Prior to Pesach, the community center taught a select group of local Jews how to conduct seders in their own homes, recognizing that few individuals of that particular intellectual and economic level would attend communal seders. Instructors from the local Jewish Peoples' University present lectures on various Jewish subjects, such as Jewish history and Jewish tradition, throughout the year.

Other programs for adults include a library and reading room, a literary club and a women's club. Some activities of the latter are intergenerational, bringing together middle-age women and their young-adult daughters. The community center recently began a class in women's aerobics or "shaping" (шейпинг).47 One 10- or 11-day session of a family camp will be offered this summer for about 20 families.

JDC programs in smaller Jewish population centers throughout the region are necessarily more limited, but each offers a selection of services and activities. The central hesed in Dnipropetrovsk operates a van that delivers food parcels, library books, and other items to small communities.

The JDC community center building in Dnipropetrovsk houses the Dnipropetrovsk Institute for Communal and Welfare Workers, a branch of a larger and similar JDC organization in St. Petersburg. The Dnipropetrovsk affiliate operates workshops for JDC professional and paraprofessional staff in the region, such as hesed directors, library workers, homecare workers, and others.

54. The Boston-Dnipropetrovsk Jewish community kehilla/sister-city project has brought three medical programs to Dnipropetrovsk. Project Vision, whose roots are in the American Physicians Fellowship, Inc. for Medicine in Israel, has worked with JDC and other organizations on eye care improvement in Israel (including Arab communities) and for Jewish populations in Russia, Romania, and Cuba. In November 1997, a medical group (ophthalmologists, optometrists, internists, and oncologists) from Boston conducted a five-day consultation based at the JDC hesed. They brought with them 25 cartons of American diagnostic equipment, medical supplies, and eyeglasses. More than 600 patients, most of them elderly clients on the rolls of Shaarei Chesed and other Jewish charities, were diagnosed and treated. Home visits were made to housebound patients. Seven individuals received laser treatment, and other patients were recommended for later surgery. Eventually, Project Vision hopes to train local medical personnel in such procedures. Action for Post-Soviet Jewry (Waltham, MA) worked with Project Vision and JDC in arranging and implementing this program.

Two ambulatory medical clinics, one in obstetrics/gynecology and the other in pediatrics, were opened at Gynecology Hospital #6 and Children's Hospital #9 respectively. Located in a separate wing of the Gynecology Hospital, the Women's Clinic is unusually clean and pleasant in comparison with other Soviet/post-Soviet medical facilities. Modern diagnostic equipment and training is supplied by physicians associated with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

The Pediatric Clinic lacks a defined space, but focuses on physician education and the provision of recent medical literature, including textbooks. The collaborating hospitals are Mt. Auburn Hospital and Cambridge Hospital in Cambridge, MA. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston has been an important link between the two Dnipropetrovsk clinics and medical programs in the greater Boston area.

55. Global Jewish Assistance and Relief Network (GJARN), directed by Rabbi Eliezer Avtson, began various welfare operations in Ukraine in 1991. Although Rabbi Avtson is associated with Chabad Lubavitch, GJARN operates on a non-sectarian basis and thus is able to work collaboratively with United States government agencies. It has managed a welfare service in Dnipropetrovsk for several years and will soon open a clinic, with U.S. government funds, that will specialize in treatment of diabetes and several other medical conditions.


56. The city of Zaporizhya (known until 1921 as Aleksandrovsk) is the administrative center of Zaporizhya oblast, which lies immediately south of Dnipropetrovsk oblast. The cities of Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhya are about fifty miles apart. The city of Zaporizhya was established in the late sixteenth century by roving bands of local Cossacks known as Zaporizhya Cossacks. Their descendants remain in the area today, although they are less numerous and less well known than the Don Cossacks to the east and Kuban Cossacks to the southeast.

Extensive deposits of lignite as well as electricity generated by a hydroelectric station on the Dnipr River supported development of an economy based on metallurgy, chemicals, and transportation equipment. In common with other centers of heavy industry in the post-Soviet transition states, much of this enterprise is obsolescent and currently non-operative. Agricultural production (especially winter wheat, corn, and potatoes) in the oblast sustains a food processing industry.

The current population of the city of Zaporizhya is approximately 880,000, including 10,000 to 14,000 Jews. Much smaller concentrations of Jews live in Berdyansk and Melitopol, both in the southern part of the oblast.

44. Rabbi Lepkivker noted that the new JDC facility in Lugansk, an industrial city further east in Ukraine with a much smaller Jewish population, will be called a community center and will accommodate all major Jewish institutions in the area, including a synagogue, hesed, and community center program.
45. The program was initiated at the urging of Dr. Judith Wolf and her family in Boston. (The Jewish communities of the two cities have a twinning relationship.)
46. Prior to the inception of the hesed program, many of the children had not been out of their apartments for five to seven years.
47. Publicity for the aerobics class generated a controversy with Rabbi Kaminezki and his colleagues due to the wide distribution of promotional circulars featuring a large picture of a shapely blonde in a skimpy two-piece outfit that may have been nothing more than underwear. Rabbi Kaminezki declined to post the announcements. Commenting on the divergence of views, Ms. Sviridenko smiled and said, "We have different tasks." ("У нас разные задачи.")

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