Betsy Gidwitx Reports

Visit To Jewish Communities
In Ukraine, Moldova
April, 1998


3. The Union of Jewish Religious Organizations of Ukraine (Об'еднання іудейських релігйних організацій Україне) held a conference in March in Dnipropetrovsk, which was attended by most of the 20 community rabbis in Ukraine3 as well as Jewish Agency shlichim (emissaries) in Ukraine, Uri Ohaly of the Jewish Agency Department of Education, and Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen, the Chief Rabbi of Haifa. The conference was considered a major success by all of those in attendance, fortifying relations between the (Orthodox) rabbis and the representatives of Sochnut (Jewish Agency), many of whom are secular.4 So pleased were the rabbis with the participation of Jewish Agency shlichim that they plan to invite representatives of other organizations, such as the Joint Distribution Committee and Nativ (Lishkat Hakesher), to future rabbinic con-ferences.

The three-day conference was held in Dnipropetrovsk to facilitate evasion of Vadim Rabinovich, who is based in Kyiv. The Dnipropetrovsk venue further enhanced the reputation of Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki, Chief Rabbi of Dnipropetrovsk, who organized the conference and whose many accomplishments were visible to conference participants as their sessions were scheduled to take place in his various local Jewish institutions.5

4. Rabbi Bleich spoke of several groups represented in the Kyiv Municipal Jewish Association. The Jewish University group Ekonomika is the nucleus of a new Jewish university that will be launched in the 1998-1999 academic year. Beginning with courses in business and management taught by professors at existing Kyiv institutions, the University will be organized according to the model of Yeshiva University in New York, i.e., a secular curriculum accompanied by Jewish studies courses. It will aim for excellence in both general and Judaic studies, be sensitive to the Jewish calendar, and, in its early years, use classroom space in the Jewish day school associated with Rabbi Bleich. The Judaic studies classes will be taught by rabbis and other qualified scholars.

If an agreement can be reached with the Kyiv-based International Solomon University, the new Jewish university will collaborate with it in course offerings.6 Rabbi Bleich and others believe that such a post-secondary Jewish institution is necessary so that Jewish day school graduates, in particular, can continue their education in a Jewish setting.

The Home for Elderly is one of three projects under development with United States Department of Agriculture financial assistance. It will contain 44 one-room and 27 two-room apartments, along with a medical suite, an activities area, and other service facilities. It will be open to both Jewish and non-Jewish elderly. (The other two projects, which are not represented in the Kyiv Municipal Jewish Association because they have no Jewish content, are The 21st Century Foundation and the Ukrainian Soy Association. The former will develop curricula in civil society and market economics for Ukrainian schools and the latter will promote Ukrainian import of American soy and soy-based products.) These projects have their own administrator.7

The Kyiv Municipal Jewish Association is providing $50,000 for renovation of the Sheykavitskaya street synagogue. Most of the funds will be directed toward strengthening the foundation of the structure and transformation of its basement into a Jewish community center with space for youth activities.

5. Khariton Gilgur, is director of the Jewish Gymnasium or School #299, the Kyiv day school that operates under the auspices of Yad Yisroel, the support organization for Karliner-Stoliner hasidim activity in the successor states. Mr. Gilgur said that 523 pupils are enrolled in all three buildings (kindergarten and lower grades, girls' school, and boys' school) and that the declining birth rate among Jews suggests that enrollment is unlikely to grow significantly. The school could accept more youngsters in its kindergarten and lower grades, but this program is very expensive to operate because that building lacks its own kitchen and food must be bought there every day from the kitchen at the girls' school. If the school had money to install a kitchen in this building, more children would be accepted for enrollment. About 10 percent of the pupils leave the school every year to emigrate to other countries, most with their parents.

According to Mr. Gilgur, the primary goal of the school is "to make Jews" of the pupils and "push them to Israel". Unless they emigrate to another country with their families, most youngsters who graduate from the school will settle in Israel. Some go immediately after graduation, others may start university in Kyiv and emigrate later. It is likely that some graduates will find the new Kyiv-based Jewish university appealing. School #299 maintains contacts with many post-secondary institutions in Israel so that its graduates may be directed to appropriate programs there.

Pupils in School #299 study one class period of Hebrew and two periods of Jewish tradition daily. The school has developed its own Hebrew curriculum and teaches some Jewish tradition courses in Hebrew. Additionally, pupils are taught between 36 and 40 hours of Jewish history each year. Locally trained individuals teach Hebrew and six people with education experience in Israel or the U.S. teach Jewish tradition classes. The school holds morning prayers and mincha every day, but these sessions are voluntary because of its public-school status.

Some of their Judaic studies teachers leave the school for positions at Ohr Somayach in Odessa, which offers more generous compensation. Another problem is the return of some youngsters who go to Israel with the Children of Chernobyl program. The Children of Chernobyl education component in Israel is very weak, thus forcing some youngsters to repeat a grade if they return to Kyiv.

School #299 is highly regarded throughout the city because its pupils score very well on citywide exams in secular subjects. It must compete with private schools and with special schools offering concentrations in mathematics or in foreign languages. Because it is dependent on buses to bring in pupils from all over the city, the boys' school begins classes only at 9:00 a.m. and the girls' school at 9:30 a.m. School is dismissed at 5:25 p.m., but some youngsters arrive at their homes only at 7:30 p.m. due to very long bus routes through heavy traffic. The school may offer enrichment classes for gifted children on Sundays in order to retain them, although the special sessions will cost about $2,000 each month for teacher salaries, meals, and transportation.

The school has 21 486 computers in its boys' division and 11 386s in its girls school. Both programs require more advanced hardware and software so that more advanced programs can be taught.

6. The Yad Yisroel boarding school in Kyiv began the school year with an enrollment of 38 boys between the ages of 10 and 16. It currently accommodates 21 boys, most of the remainder having moved on to other academic programs in Israel, Canada, or other countries. Four boys returned to their homes because of homesickness. All current enrollees are normal children from problematic homes, most from small Jewish population centers in Ukraine.

Rabbi Moishe Fima, a native of England, supervises the overall program, now in its first year of operation. Khariton Gilgur directs the academic component, and Inna Markovna Ioffe supervises the dormitory. The boys live on one floor of a dormitory building, most of which is now in commercial use, in the same district as the Shekavitskaya street synagogue. Three or four boys live in each bedroom; the floor also includes a kitchen and dining room. Most classes are held in rooms on the top two floors of a structure adjacent to the synagogue, but boys go by bus to the boys' day school (#299) for classes in computer skills and physical education.

Rabbi Fima hopes that the entire program will be accommodated in a new building next year that will include a dormitory, classrooms, computer room, gymnasium, dining room, and recreational space. About 70 percent of the academic curriculum consists of general subjects and 30 percent of Judaic subjects. Classes are small, each including no more than five or six boys. The school operates for a full day four days each week, Monday through Thursday, and a half day on Friday and Sunday. An extracurricular program is offered, including swimming lessons at a municipal pool, and excursions to various other cities are also available to each boy.

Reflecting deficient schools in their hometowns and difficult lives in problematic homes, many of the boys require academic tutoring in Kyiv. Many of them also need instruction in basic hygiene practices.

Rabbi Fima expects all boys in the program to continue their post-secondary education at institutions in Israel, the United States, or Canada with which the Karliner-Stoliner movement has ties. Parents are informed of this expectation when boys enroll in the boarding school and are consulted about the destinations of their sons. It is unlikely that any of the boys will remain in Ukraine as adults.

The program receives some aid from World Jewish Relief (London) and modest support from JDC. JDC, Sokhnut, and the Lishkat Hakesher (Nativ) are likely to refer boys to the school in the future.

Girls requiring such a program are usually offered places at a Karliner-Stoliner boarding school for Russian-speaking girls in Jerusalem. No specific plans exist for opening a girls' boarding school in Kyiv.

7. School #128 is a mixed school on the left side of the Dnipr River, enrolling 300 youngsters in a conventional district public school and 300 additional pupils, ages 7 to 17, in a school curriculum that includes the regular program plus five additional classes of Jewish subjects each week. Supervised by the Israeli Ministry of Education under the Nativ (Lishkat Hakesher) Tsofia (Maavar) program, the Judaic component includes two hours of Hebrew and three classes of Israeli dancing, singing, or art every week for younger pupils, and three hours of Hebrew plus two hours of Jewish history or tradition each week for older youngsters. Pupils in the Jewish program remain in school for an additional class period each day in order to receive instruction in these subjects.

The school enjoys a good reputation in the city and has a waiting list for its Jewish program. About 30 Jewish youngsters leave the school every year for emigration to Israel or another country with their parents.

School facilities include two ORT-supplied computer classrooms, each with 10 computers with 486 processors. The computer classroom for older pupils also contains some Israeli CAD-CAM equipment and programs that substantially enhance the level of computer technology available to pupils. Youngsters in both the Jewish and general programs of the school use these facilities.


3. These rabbis are based in: Kyiv (3 rabbis), Odessa and Kharkiv (2 rabbis each), Berdichev, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Kherson, Korosten (non-resident), Lviv, Mukachevo (non-resident), Nikolaev, Simferopol, Vinnitsa (non-resident), Zaporizhya, and Zhitomir.
4. Rabbi David Wilfond, a Reform rabbi in Kyiv, was not invited to this conference. See pp. 9-12.
5. Rabbi Kaminezki has developed more Jewish institutions than any other rabbi in the post-Soviet successor states. See pp. 34-42.
6. Ostensibly a Jewish university, International Solomon University maintains a majority non-Jewish enrollment and observes few Jewish customs.
7. Rabbi Bleich, a native of Brooklyn, arranged the USDA program.

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