Betsy Gidwitx Reports
Journey To Jewish Population Centers In Ukraine

April, May, 1999

Most youngsters are from Dnipropetrovsk and other cities in eastern Ukraine. However, the homes receive referrals from Chabad rabbis elsewhere in the successor states, from Israeli diplomatic missions, and from other Jewish organizations aware of children in need of residential stability.

The homes currently accommodate 38 boys and 32 girls. An attic space at the boys’ home has been developed within the past year into several additional sleeping rooms, a games room, a computer room, and a large walk-in closet for out-of-season clothing. The girls’ home, which currently is furnished with single beds, anticipates the addition of bunk beds by next fall as the need for this type of service continues to grow. Each residence has its own kitchen and dining facilities, a small library, arts and crafts materials, games and recreational equipment, and four computers.

All boys are enrolled at the heder or yeshiva day school because the extended-day programs of these institutions facilitate childcare and supervision. Girls attend the regular day school. Youngsters attend Chabad camps during the summer, and various excursions and other programs are planned for shorter school vacation periods. Some children visit grandparents or other relatives on weekends.

Upon graduation from high school, most youngsters enroll in one or another Israeli educational program. One girl will enter the Beit Chana program in Dnipropetrovsk. It is anticipated that most youngsters will settle in Israel.

Rabbi Mendel Karasik, the American house leader for the boys’ home, is expected to leave that position in June. The house leader for the girls is Elena Kaplunskaya, daughter of the day school principal.

A physician visits each home every day. Many of the youngsters require extensive dental work, which is very costly. Several children have been traumatized by prior experiences and require professional counseling, but available services are inadequate.

32. The Philanthropic Fund of the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish Community will continue to subsidize operation of a summer camp in Novomoskovsk, about a 25-minute drive from Dnipropetrovsk. The camp accommodates 150 girls and 150 boys in separate sessions of four weeks duration. Although some campers are pupils at the day school, Rabbi Kaminezki actively recruits campers from other schools and from other cities in the region so as to offer more children a Jewish camping experience. Young women from Beit Chana and from Israel work as counselors during the girls’ session, and young men from the United States and Israel are counselors for the boys’ session.

Handicapped children attend special sessions before the regular camp convenes, and small groups of elderly Jews are invited to the camp for one-week vacations throughout the camp season. The camp was built by a construction company for the children of its employees and was sold to Dnipropetrovsk Chabad in 1992.

33. The Boston-Dnipropetrovsk Jewish community kehilla/sister-city project has brought three medical programs to Dnipropetrovsk. The largest of these is a Center for Women’s Health, i.e., a consulting and diagnostic center in a defined wing of Gynecology Hospital #6. The clinic, which is much cleaner and more pleasant than most medical facilities in the Soviet/post-Soviet Union, includes two examination rooms, one ultrasound room, a room for hysteroscopy procedures, and a laboratory. The Boston partners have provided almost all of the medical equipment and continue to provide a variety of disposable supplies.50

The goals for the project are to: (1) strengthen relations between the government and the people of Dnipropetrovsk and its Jewish community through the provision of free modern health care for all; (2) provide physician and medical technician education; (3) improve primary health care for women; and (4) focus on family planning, cervical cancer screening and treatment, routine gynecological care, and diagnosis and treatment of sexually-transmitted diseases.51 Physicians and medical technicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston have provided training to their Dnipropetrovsk counterparts at sessions in Boston and in Dnipropetrovsk. In addition to training in technical procedures, the Boston group has attempted to instill a more professional attitude in Dnipropetrovsk medical personnel and encourage more sensitive treatment of patients.

The Center is open to any woman who makes an appointment for consultation.52 Approximately 10,000 women visited the clinic, some on several occasions, during its first full year of operation in 1998. Medical knowledge was shared throughout Ukraine in seminars and continuing medical education courses. The Center also has become a training site for cytologists in Ukraine and other countries.

The project is funded for its first three years by a grant from Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston (the Boston Jewish federation), which was matched by the George Rohr family of New York. The Boston commitment includes provision of medical technology, equipment, drugs, and medical education. The municipality of Dnipropetrovsk is responsible for provision of facilities, utilities, and all staff salaries. The project is managed by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston as part of its relationship with the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish community.

A sign at the entrance to the clinic lists the project donors. A similar sign in the Russian language is directly across the hall.

The Center is governed by a nine-person board of trustees, of whom three are members of the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish community, three are local non-Jews, and three are Boston Jews. The board is co-chaired by Dr. Benjamin Sachs, Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and the deputy mayor of Dnipropetrovsk. The board has purchased heaters to be used in the Center during the winter and has obtained some supplies for the clinic.

Dr. Ludmila Gavrish, one of the principal local physicians in the Center, trained for one month at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and sends regular reports to Dr. Benjamin Sachs about medical care at the Center. She believes that everyone who works at the Center feels privileged and proud to be associated with a program that is so advanced. Further, the fact that the Jewish community of Boston, which is so very far away, has made a large investment for the use of all women in Dnipropetrovsk has created a new interest in, and appreciation of, Jewish life in Dnipropetrovsk, Boston, and elsewhere. Dr. Gavrish added that news reports about the United States received in Ukraine had encouraged Ukrainians to associate the United States with crime; the gift of this center and the continuation of valuable training programs has inspired them to associate the United States with more positive qualities.

A second Boston clinic, which the writer did not visit, focuses on pediatric care and is less elaborate. The collaborating Boston-area hospitals are Mt. Auburn Hospital and Cambridge Hospital, both in Cambridge. The program is based at Children’s Hospital #9 in Dnipropetrovsk and concentrates on childhood immunizations and continuing medical education. About 3,000 children (representing 10,000 visits) received care at the clinic during its first year of operation.

The third project was managed by Project Vision, an outgrowth of the American Physicians Fellowship, Inc. for Medicine in Israel. In November 1997, a medical group (ophthalmologists, optometrists, internists, and oncologists) from Boston conducted a five-day consultation based at the Dnipropetrovsk hesed. They brought with them 25 cartons of American diagnostic equipment, medical supplies, and eyeglasses. More than 600 patients, most of them elderly clients of the hesed, 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.

Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki is very pleased with all three projects, believing that they have had a very positive impact on relations between the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish community and the larger local population. He commented further that visiting medical personnel and other representatives of Boston always conduct themselves in a responsible manner and do not attempt to interfere in matters that are most appropriately handled by local people.

34. Dnipropetrovsk is the administrative center for operations of the Joint Distribution Committee in a large area of eastern Ukraine. The area includes four oblasts and 43 cities and towns in which 140,000 to 150,000 Jews reside. The four oblasts are Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhya, Donetsk, and Lugansk.

The writer met with Itzhak Averbuch, General Director of JDC Programs in Eastern Ukraine,53 and Rabbi Menachem Lepkivker, JDC Representative in Dnipropetrovsk. When asked what was new since the writer last met with them approximately one year previously, the two men responded that Jewish community center (Еврейский общинный центр) activity had expanded signif-icantly in almost all cities. They also noted that in both Lugansk (approximately 5,000 Jews) and Melitopol (approximately 4,000 Jews), former synagogues that have been returned to the respective Jewish communities have been converted into multi-purpose Jewish community centers with the assistance of JDC.54

Jewish community center activity includes some of the following, the precise mix depending on population size, available program space, professional and lay leadership, and budget: a Jewish library and annual Jewish book festival; clubs for children and youth; creative activity for children and youth; adult cultural activities, such as musical or theater groups; adult Jewish education; various programs for seniors; monthly newspaper or weekly bulletin; family camps; exercise and/or dance classes; and Israeli and Jewish holiday celebrations. Larger JCCs might have media centers, programs for handicapped individuals, and Hillel clubs for students. If the JCC shares space with a synagogue, various religious classes and related activity also may be on the agenda.

50. Because of problems with bureaucracy and corruption in the Ukrainian customs service, most supplies are brought into Dnipropetrovsk by visitors in accompanying baggage, rather than shipped in by container.
51. Sachs, Benjamin P. “Centers for Women and Children, Dniepropetrovsk, Ukraine.” Paper presented at conference, Jewish Life after the USSR: A Community in Transition, Davis Center for Russian Studies, Harvard University, Cambridge, February 15, 1999.
52. The concept of an “appointment” is unusual in Soviet/post-Soviet medicine. Typically, would-be patients go to a clinic without an appointment and wait in line until they are seen. Although the clinic is available to all women, Chana Kaminezki (the wife of Rabbi Kaminezki) receives occasional appeals from women accustomed to the Soviet/post-Soviet way of gaining access to high-level medical care, i.e., seeking the intervention of an influential person.
53. The JDC Eastern Ukraine region also includes a separate center in Kharkiv, which is discussed below.
54. A Chabad rabbi arrived recently in Lugansk to direct both religious and JDC activity in the local JCC. The Melitopol facility does not have a rabbi.

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