A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

The grand opening of the new synagogue in Dneprodzerzhinsk

First of all, where is Dneprodzerzhinsk? You may have guessed from the name of the city that, like Dnepropetrovsk, it is located along the Dnepr River. Now, click on the map below, and it’ll open a new window with a large map of Ukraine. First we need to find Dnepropetrovsk. This isn’t too hard. You see Crimea, that island/peninsula located at the southernmost part of Ukraine? Right, on the eastern half, surrounded by the Black and Azov Seas. Now move north, along the Dnepr River, past Zaporozhe (spelled the Ukrainian way here), and then you’ll see it: Dnepropetrovsk, the third largest city in Ukraine! Maladetz, well done! Now, Dneprodzerzhinsk is not nearly so large a city, so you’ll have to zoom in here. Look just west of Dnepropetrovsk, and you’ll see Dneprodzerzhinsk (but spelled the Ukrainian way) written next to a small circle. There it is. It took us about 30 minutes to get there from the kindergarten, and 40 minutes to get back to my apartment, which is closer to the center.

I know what you’re wondering now: who is “us?” (“It took us about 30 minutes to get there…”) I went with Sharon, my boss’s wife, and her eldest son, Ido. Sharon is great and has been a real friend to me here. Here’s a picture of her and Ido in the synagogue:

Earlier this morning, I was telling my Russian teacher that I was going to Dneprodzerzhinsk later in the day. “Why?” she asked me. “There’s nothing there but smelly factories! There’s absolutely nothing to see there– save yourself the trouble!” Well, I saw for myself when we arrived. (Note: these pictures were taken from the car upon entering and leaving the city, so understandably thequality is pretty bad.)

In the top picture, you can see the smoke rising from the city skyline. The city did smell accordingly. There were a few large, tree-lined roads like this that were quite lovely on the way to the city center. What you see in the bottom picture is what a good portion of the rest of the city, outside the center, looked like. There were a lot of factories and really decrepit buildings and warehouses, as well. On this gray and gloomy day especially, it was a fairly dismal looking place.

The synagogue was absolutely lovely, on the other hand! It was located in a rather beat up neighborhood (but then again, I didn’t see many neighborhoods that weren’t disheveled in my limited tour of the city. The streets immediately surrounding the theater were a bit nicer, and these were only a couple of blocks away from the synagogue).

This is the interior of the synagogue. It was very large, but didn’t feel it, because of the warm wood and bright light. Sharon and I liked it very much.

You can see the difference between the beautiful synagogue and the crumbling buildings right across the street from it . The building shown in the last picture was especially falling apart– click on this thumbnail and you’ll see that it must have been an abandoned building that time and the weather simply destroyed.

The opening ceremony was supposed to be outside the synagogue, but due to rain, it was moved to the theater. There Sharon, Ido, and I crammed our way inside and sat through three of the who knows how many hours of speeches, song, and film the community had set up. This was a very well publicized opening. It was in the news in Ukraine (http://www.dndz.tv/news-2695.html, for example), and was known in the US, Israel, and Russia, as well as in Ukraine. Why such a big deal? you may well be wondering. Well. the Chabad rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk, Rabbi Kaminetsky (a very clever and politically savvy man known all throughout Ukraine, in the Jewish and non-Jewish sectors. My Russian teacher even knows of him) organized and designed this entire project, and got one of the richest Ukrainians, Boris Mikhailovich Bogolubov, to pay for the entire synagogue, which also doubles as a community center. Given that both Kaminetsky and Bogolubov are famous in Ukraine, with myriad connections all over the world, the event garnered some attention. Benyamin Netanyahu even recorded a message of well-wishes that was shown at the event. Other A and B list Israelis were in attendance (as well as some Americans on the C list of the Jew world and a recording of an A list Russian), including the head rabbi of Sephardic Judaism in Israel.

Above you see Bogolubov (center) receiving a certificate of thanks and, later, flowers from the mayor (left) and the rabbi (right) of Dneprodzerzhinsk.

Here’s Kaminetsky receiving his thanks. I was crammed with seven other people in the space normally occupied by one up on the balcony, so this was the best I could do. There really was quite a crowd of people there!

In any event, after three hours, Ido was getting restless, and so were Sharon and I, quite honestly. It was very hot in the theater, but freezing outside, and we had nowhere to wait comfortably until the ceremony would finish (who knows when) and process back to the synagogue to unveil the name. So we left early, and I’m not sorry for it. It was a very interesting afternoon.


1 Comment»

  Melina wrote @

beautiful synagogue indeed!

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