Betsy Gidwitx Reports

Visit To Jewish Communities
In Ukraine, Moldova
April, 1998


57. The Zaporizhya synagogue has been remodeled extensively by the Joint Distribution Committee and includes both a large sanctuary and a smaller shul, as well as meeting rooms of various sizes, a kitchen, and a dining room accommodating 100 persons. Rabbi Nachum Ehrentroi serves the community in a dual capacity as rabbi and as representative of JDC. Although associated with the Chabad movement, Rabbi Ehrentroi does not represent Chabad in the city. Rabbi Ehrentroi was attending a JDC conference in Jerusalem at the time of my visit.

58. The Zaporizhya Jewish day school -- known formally as Zaporizhya Muncipal Jewish National Gymnasium Alef -- opened in 1992 under the auspices of the Lishkat Hakesher Maavar (now Tsofia) program. It quickly acquired widespread notoriety for its Bundist approach to Jewish issues, creating the spectacle of an anti-Zionist school sponsored by the Israeli government. Conflict within its faculty was rife and public, its administration encouraging the anti-Zionist direction and some teachers opposing it. Several years would pass before illness forced the resignation of a key official and changes could be effected in the orientation of the school. Nonetheless, the current principal is militantly anti-religious and the curriculum continues to include Yiddish (although pupils receive no grades in Yiddish and they are graded in Hebrew).

A school official reported that the current enrollment is 280 pupils. About 20 youngsters leave during the school year, most emigrating with their parents to Israel. Many adolescents choose to complete their high school education in Israel in the Naaleh program. The day school Judaic curriculum includes three hours of Hebrew each week and one hour each of Jewish tradition, Jewish history, and geography of Israel. Additionally, pupils study two hours each of Yiddish and Jewish literature weekly without receiving grades in those subjects. An effort is made to teach high school level Judaic courses in the Hebrew language itself. Thirty high school pupils and six teachers were in Poland as participants in the March of the Living when the writer visited the school.

Five teachers from Israel work in the school, four on a full-time basis and one part-time. Dina Ehrentroi, wife of Rabbi Ehrentroi, is the lead Hebrew teacher.48 Members of the teaching staff said that the school celebrates all Israeli and Jewish holidays (in a secular manner) and that events were held in which parents also would learn about the Jewish calendar.

Teachers expressed great pride in the school newspaper, a Russian-language broadsheet with fairly advanced computer graphics.49 The authors of most articles were identified as teachers, but pupils write some shorter articles and poetry. (Several poems had been written in Ukrainian.) The orientation of the newspaper is Zionist.

The school occupies only a portion of a three-story building. The remainder is empty, having been condemned as unsafe. Classes in grades one and two meet in an adjacent structure.

59. The religious community (synagogue) operates a pre-school enrolling 53 children in three age groups. In contrast to the day school, the orientation of the pre-school is religious.

60. The Jewish Sunday school in Zaporizhya is considered one of the best in Ukraine. Of the 70 youngsters who are enrolled, about 50 participate every week. Parallel classes are offered for parents. Observers consider the director to be quite talented and note that Israeli teachers from the day school also teach Hebrew at the Sunday school, thus providing an unusually high level of Hebrew instruction for a Sunday school in the transition states.

61. Both the Jewish Agency for Israel and Nativ (Israel Cultural Center) serve Zaporizhya from their Dnipropetrovsk bases. Ezra, a religious Zionist youth group, operates a three-week summer camp in the area in cooperation with the Jewish Agency.


62. With a population of 1,555,000, Kharkiv is the second largest city in Ukraine. Its proximity to the Donets Coal Basin (Donbas) and Krivoy Rog iron range led to its development as a major center of heavy industry. Kharkiv also hosts a number of Ukrainian institutions of higher education. Financial distress has led to significant contraction of several sectors of the economy, including industry, higher education, and medical services. A city of unusual political complexity, Kharkiv was capital of Ukraine from 1921 to 1934. It is heavily russified, but also is home to groups representing UNA-UNSO (Ukrainian nationalists) and the Slavic Union (advocates of a united Slavic nation comprising Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine).

The Jewish population of Kharkiv is about 40,000. Kharkiv and Cincinnati are "sister cities", but a functional relationship has proved difficult to attain at either the municipal or Jewish communal levels due to difficult operating conditions in Kharkiv as well as a lack of commitment in Cincinnati.

63. Rabbi Moishe Moskowitz, who is associated with Chabad, is Chief Rabbi of Kharkiv and Kharkiv Oblast. Rabbi Moskowitz was eager to express his admiration for the Joint Distribution Committee, which only recently stationed a full-time manager in Kharkiv. JDC, said Rabbi Moskowitz, had made rapid progress in opening a hesed and providing crucial services for the Jewish community. (See below.)

The first stage in restoration of the Choral Synagogue has been completed. Its golden-hued cupola had been re-finished and gleamed in the spring sun. Gutters and downspouts have been replaced. Further work depends on the reaction of Eduard Khodos, a local Jew who resides on the second floor of the Choral Synagogue and claims to represent Progressive Judaism in the city.50 The Moskowitzes said that many Kharkiv Jews have expressed concern that Khodos' words and actions will provoke antisemitism, noting that he has claimed in his newspaper and in television interviews that Jews are money-hungry and that he understands why Adolf Hitler wanted to kill Jews. (Mr. Khodos' newspaper, Тихий ужас or Quiet Horror, is published irregularly.) The Reform movement "self-destructs" when it maintains contact with Khodos, the Moskowitzes said.

After Khodos' bizarre and failed campaign for mayor, city officials realized that he is harmful to the image of the city, related Rabbi Moskowitz. It appears that the municipality is trying to persuade Khodos to move out of the synagogue as his presence there is embarrassing. Further, said the Moskowitzes, influential people in the municipality are aware that Jewish communities in other cities have restored their synagogues, thus enhancing the image of these cities. Officials in Kharkiv would like their city to appear to embrace its Jewish population as well, and they know that neither local Jews nor their associates abroad are likely to commit resources to full renovation of the synagogue as long as its control is contested.

64. The Chabad day school (School #170) enrolled 430 youngsters in April 1998, compared to 450 in September 1997. More than 20 youngsters left during the school year (to emigrate with their parents), said Rabbi Moskowitz, but others entered the school in mid-year. A preschool, which enrolls approximately 50 children, and the first three grades of the elementary school meet in a former nursery school building, which has spacious outdoor play areas. The kitchen in this building prepares meals for pupils in this building, pupils in the middle/upper school facility, and for impoverished elderly Jews who are served JDC-sponsored hot meals in dining rooms in both buildings.

Pupils in middle and upper grades are allocated classroom space on the third floor (plus several activity rooms on the ground floor) of a public school in another district of the city. The Chabad areas of the building are separated from the regular public school in the building by floor-to-ceiling chain link fences. Rabbi Moskowitz has been unsuccessful in several years of searching for another facility to house the middle and high schools.

Pupils in the day school study Hebrew three times weekly in classes taught by local teachers. Rabbi Moskowitz, Mrs. Moskowitz, and Rabbi Levi Reitzes teach classes in Torah three times weekly to pupils, and a local individual teaches one hour of Jewish literature to pupils each week. A husband-and-wife team from Israel will join the school in 1998-1999 as teachers of tradition.

Prayers, led by the teachers of Torah, are said in the school each morning on a voluntary basis. Rabbi Moskowitz said that school uniforms will be required for all pupils in 1998-1999 in order to reduce the visibility of income differences among families of pupils.

The school sponsors a number of extra-curricular activities, including a hesed club that makes friendly visits to elderly Jews in the city. Assisting youngsters in many extra-curricular programs are members of the Hillel student organization, which is based in a small structure attached to the school building.

Rabbi Moskowitz considers enrollment in the day school to be part of the emigration process. Some youngsters leave the school in the upper grades to enroll in Naaleh, and some enter the Sela program upon graduation. Other graduates go to Israel in other programs as young adults.

65. 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 on-site director at the time of the writer's visit was Rabbi Eli Lewis, who expects to return to Israel with his family at the end of the school year.

48. The divergence in lifestyles between Mrs. Ehrentroi, who was attired in conventional clothing for a Chabad woman, and the other Israelis, several of whom (including women) wore blue jeans, was clear. Also clear was a significant degree of tension in their relationship.
49.  The school has 10 computers with 486 processors. Only the teacher's computer has a CD-ROM drive.
50. For an earlier discussion of the Khodos issue, see pages 9-12 in this report.

Prev | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | Next

Click here to view/download a PDF version of this report.
To view/print the above file you must have the free Adobe Acrobat reader. Click here to download the reader.
  Copyright 2007 Baecore Group