Betsy Gidwitx Reports
Journey To Jewish Population Centers In Ukraine

April, May, 1999

JDC recently dedicated a pedagogical center in the day school. It occupies one room, containing work tables and other furniture and equipment for teachers. The center also includes various educational resource materials.

All day school students have three hours of instruction each week in Jewish tradition and another three hours in Hebrew language. Some classes also have three class periods of Jewish literature each week. Three teachers from Israel and the United States teach most of the Judaic courses.

Twenty-five boys in grades seven through nine have elected to learn in a more intensive yeshiva environment, devoting mornings to Jewish studies and afternoons to secular courses. Boys in this curriculum had completed lower school at the regular day school. The yeshiva program will be extended through grade 11, after which almost all boys are expected to emigrate to Israel. Rabbi Moskowitz anticipates that most will enter Israeli universities, but that some will enroll in Israeli yeshivas. Kharkiv yeshiva pupils learn in a small, separate building that is attached to the day school. Some youngsters who had hoped to participate in this program have been refused permission to do so by their parents.

70. As in previous summers, Kharkiv Chabad will operate a summer camp in 1999. The camp will enroll 120 boys and 120 girls in separate three-week sessions. Ten young men and 10 young women from the United States will staff the respective sessions, assisted by local young adults. In common with other Chabad rabbis in the successor states, Rabbi Moskowitz recruits a significant number of non-day school pupils to attend camp so that additional local young people will be exposed to Judaism.83 Some of these youngsters subsequently enroll in the Chabad day school.

Rabbi Moskowitz will operate a family camp in the week between the boys’ and girls’ sessions. Although a staple of Joint Distribution Committee programming for several years, family camping is a recent addition to the Chabad agenda.

71. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU; New York) operates a multi-faceted Zionist-oriented 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 is Rabbi Natanel Avivi, a young Israeli now in his first year in Kharkiv; Rabbi Avivi stated that he plans to remain in his position at least two years.

The OU headquarters are at the Joseph K. Miller Torah Center84 in the center of Kharkiv. The building includes a synagogue, various meeting and activity rooms, a dining room and kitchen, dormitory space for pupils attending the local OU school (see below), and apartments for Israeli staff.

Lycee Sha’alvim, a joint project of the OU Joseph K. Miller Torah Center and Kibbutz Sha’alvim in Israel, is a private school that enrolled 100 pupils in grades seven through eleven in September 1998. Enrollment in early May 1999 was 90, the decrease due mainly to pupil emigration to Israel with their families. Rabbi Avivi said that 39 of the 98 pupils attending the school in April 1998 (the time of the writer’s last visit to the Lycee) went to Israel at the end of the 1997-98 school year, most in the Na’aleh program or with their parents. A few others went to the United States or to Germany with their families.

Twenty-five of the current pupils -- 11 boys and 14 girls -- are boarding students. All but one are from other Ukrainian cities, and most are from smaller Jewish population centers in eastern Ukraine.

The building of the Lycee is located some distance from the center of the city. Pupils study both a general secular curriculum and 12 to 13 class hours weekly of Jewish subjects. One particularly advanced class learns all Jewish subjects in Hebrew. Six teachers (three couples) from Israel teach Judaic subjects, assisted by four yeshiva/seminary students from Israel. The latter also work as youth leaders and dormitory counselors.

Rabbi Avivi said that the Lycee will begin to enroll fifth and sixth graders in autumn 1999, hoping to increase the total school census to 150 youngsters. The fifth and sixth graders will be drawn from the local Jewish population and will learn all secular subjects for those age groups plus a Jewish curriculum that is somewhat less intense than that for pupils in seventh grade and above. Because the fifth and sixth graders (11 and 12 year-olds in Ukrainian schools) are much too young to emigrate to Israel on their own (in the Na’aleh or other youth programs), it is anticipated that they will remain at the school for at least four or five years, thus providing the OU with greater opportunities for a continuity of educational programs.

The OU Youth Center, which meets at the Joseph K. Miller Torah Center, hosts a students’ group (40 university students), a teen club (20 adolescents), and a Sunday school for about ten youngsters between the ages of eight and 12. Additional youngsters attend special events, such as holiday celebrations, at the Center. The focus of the Center is on educational and socializing activities.

OU staff visit other Jewish communities in the region of Kharkiv (such as Sumy and Poltava) and elsewhere in eastern Ukraine (such as Lugansk and Zaporizhya) and work with Chabad and Aish Hatorah to sponsor shabbatonim and other activities that reach out to Jewish youth. They are considering opening a youth center in another city.

The OU/National Conference on Synagogue Youth sponsors a two-week summer camp that is expected to enroll between 150 and 200 campers in 1999, divided into three age groups from elementary school pupils through university students. In common with the approach of other Jewish camps in Ukraine, youngsters with no active participation in other Jewish activities are recruited for the camp so that they may be exposed to some Jewish programming. Some will enroll in the Lycee.

In addition to youth activities, both the Center and the Lycee participate in the local JDC hesed program, each serving hot meals to 40 elderly Jews five days each week. The OU kitchens also prepare another 130 meals that are distributed through the hesed meals-on-wheels program.

72. The Kharkiv Hillel student group appears to have undergone a major transformation from the writer’s last meeting with their representatives in April 1998. At that time they were housed in a small building attached to the Chabad day school, a logical location as the nucleus of the group had been graduates of that school. However, even at that time, their membership was drawn from a dozen different universities and other post-secondary institutes across the city and from a few other towns in the oblast. Their leadership appeared both spontaneous and thoughtful. They were enthusiastic about the opportunities provided them to organize their own activities, proud of their accomplishments, and concerned about their futures in a society that seemed to be collapsing around them.

Hillel now has one room of moderate size in a new Jewish Community Center (see below). In a brief meeting, its leadership seemed generally stiff and rehearsed. They denied emphatically that any of their 150 members were considering emigration, a strange assertion in view of the facts that their immediate past leadership has emigrated and that Jewish emigration from Kharkiv is high and is increasing. The presence of other individuals in the room deterred the writer from pursuing this and other issues further. Hillel members showed the writer a photo album of their activities for the past year. The pictures showed an array of common Hillel programs in the post-Soviet states, including social activities, various interest/hobby groups, leadership of Pesach seders, and family camp experiences.

73. A suite of two surgical rooms and related facilities (examining rooms, waiting rooms, large storage closets, and undesignated space) has been donated to the Kharkiv Jewish community by Hospital #17, an institution that specializes in urology. Rabbi Moishe Moskowitz had approached the hospital in the hope that it might make some facilities available for ritual circumcisions of adult males.85 The hospital not only agreed to provide appropriate facilities whenever necessary, but donated a discrete section of a central building to the Jewish community (represented by Chief Rabbi Moishe Moskowitz), suggesting that it develop the space for advanced medical care.86

Even before Rabbi Moskowitz could make appropriate contacts with a potential partner organization, a wealthy local Jew arranged for the renovation of the space, applying new tiles to the ceiling, walls, and floors, and installing two surgical lamps in one of the surgery rooms.

Anatoly Girshfeld, a local man, funded the renovation of two surgical rooms and ancillary space in Kharkiv Hospital #17. The facility is used for occasional circumcisions

After visiting the space with Rabbi Moskowitz, the writer contacted Jewish Healthcare International, a new non-profit organization that works collaboratively with Jewish organizations and Israeli institutions to extend medical support to the post-Soviet states and other countries. A JHI delegation intends to visit Kharkiv in October to explore potential use of the facilities with local medical personnel and representatives of the Kharkiv Jewish population.

74. George Feingold, an intense and energetic Israeli, opened the Kharkiv office of the Joint Distribution Committee in 1997. He is due to leave the city and return to Israel this summer.

83.  Kharkiv is unusually rich in Jewish summer camps. The Chabad camp operates alongside coeducational summer camps operated by the Orthodox Union and by the Jewish Agency. (See below.) Some youngsters attend several camps each summer.
84.  The Joseph K. Miller Torah Center was established in Kharkiv in 1991 in memory of Mr. Miller, then the Treasurer of the Orthodox Union, who was killed in the explosion of Pan American Airways flight #103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
85.  An Israeli-trained and experienced mohel (ritual circumcision specialist) associated with Rabbi Yaakov Bleich of Kyiv and based in the Ukrainian capital visits many Ukrainian cities to perform this rite for Jewish males who did not undergo circumcision as infants under the Soviet regime.
86.  It is possible that the hospital administration is aware of the Boston Jewish community health care projects in Dnipropetrovsk.

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