A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

Archive for eastern Ukraine

Yom HaShoah

Holocaust Remembrance Day is an extremely important and meaningful holiday for Jews throughout Ukraine. Guests came from all over the country– from Kharkov, Dneprodzerzhinsk, and other eastern Ukrainian cities– as well as from Israel. In addition to the JDC Jerusalem group, the Metsudah leader, Shy, also came to Dnepropetrovsk to commemorate the occasion.

We congregated around the memorial that commemorates where the Jews of Dnepropetrovsk were executed at the start of the Holocaust. There were speeches by Rabbi Kaminetzky, Aharon Weiss, survivers and their relatives, high school students, and others. Poetry was read, candles were lit, and Yulia and I sang a sad Hebrew piece, Eli Eli. We then laid carnations and stones on the memorial. It was a beautiful and moving ceremony. You can see the Dnepropetrovsk Jewish Community’s pictures of the event here.

JCC Oscars

In the past two years, the Jewish Community Center has made four films, including Purimspiel, the silent film we made at Sunday school. On April 19 the JCC held an Oscars ceremony to celebrate these films and those who participated in the process of creating them. The JDC Jerusalem group, visiting eastern Ukraine for the week, attended as well. My friend Yulia and I sang a Hebrew song, HaLev, between film screenings. It was quite a celebration.

oscars-1 Read the rest of this entry »

East vs West

imgp0723

December advertisement featuring Valeriy Konovalyuk, a member of the Party of Regions, which has strong ties to Russia. The sign reads:

“Issue at stake: NATIONAL IDEA
Valeriy Konovalyuk
Farewell, arms!
Farewell, NATO!
National idea:
A new Ukraine-
Without the right to mistakes”

Read the rest of this entry »

Metsudah

This post dates back to the 17th of November; I just now realized that I never published it! Enjoy this blast from the past…

I had heard so much about the Metsudah program in my short time here, but couldn’t really understand what made it so special. This weekend I had the chance to experience it firsthand.

Read the rest of this entry »

So much to be thankful for

This Thanksgiving, while I was at home in NY celebrating with all those people who are dearest to me, the lives of my counterparts in Mumbai were drastically changed. The Chabad Rabbi and his wife, central figures in the small Mumbai Jewish community, were among the 188 victims, and the Jewish center was one of the primary targets during the four days of terror.

The following JTA article shares a little about Gavriel and Rifkah Holtzberg and the welcoming community they created.

Read the rest of this entry »

Save Yourself

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I am travelling the 1.5 hours to Zaporozhe, the evening before I am to leave for America, in order to witness firsthand a JCC charity fundraiser. The event, a freestyle competition, is called “Сохрани себя,” or “Save Yourself.” Entrance was 10 грн (grivnas), and all proceeds go to the family of Anton, a 22-year-old diagnosed with leukemia.

Read the rest of this entry »

Economic crisis in Ukraine

The worldwide economic crisis has not passed over Ukraine. Every day the grivna (Ukrainian currency) deflates even more. While this is great for me, because I get more bang for my buck, it is really destroying Ukraine, whose economy is based largely on exports. This Kyiv Post article discusses the effect on the steel industry, based in the east (ie: where I live and work!). The article was written in Donetsk, one of the cities I travel to quite often; I just got back from a business trip there yesterday, in fact. Most eastern cities, like Dnepropetrovsk and Donetsk, are large industrial centers that run the entire Ukrainian economy, so while the crisis has only begun affecting the east, it will soon spread to the west. Already banks are suffering. I have heard stories of banks and ATM machines running low on cash in the past month. Naturally, investment in gold, like in the US, has greatly increased. JDC is struggling to cut its budget without having to cut services or fire employees. It’s rough. Things are looking up, though. The Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) finally met after two weeks of being deadlocked to approve legislation for a $16.5 billion loan from the IMF. This should help float the grivna and give banks more liquidity. For more, check out this Business Ukraine article.

Zaporozhe and Donetsk

The story: over the past week and a half, I went on two excursions, to Zaporozhe and to Donetsk.

When: I went to Zaporozhe last Thursday. Amir and I left at 3 pm and got back at 9 pm. Amir, Karima (another JDC employee) and I left this Monday at 2 pm, Karina and I arrived in Donetsk at 7 pm, Amir continued to Ludonsk for the night, and we all left Donetsk the next day at 3 pm and arrived in Dnepropetrovsk at 7:30 pm.

The location: Zaporozhe is about one hour south of Dnepropetrovsk, and Donetsk is about four and a half hours west.

Read the rest of this entry »

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:

Read the rest of this entry »

So what exactly am I doing here?

I work for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee– otherwise known as “JDC” in America and “the Joint” everywhere else in the world. Technically, my title is “volunteer,” although I am paid a modest monthly salary, have an apartment with all expenses paid, and have health insurance coverage. I live far better than the average Ukrainian (I live pretty well by any standards), and yet I am considered to be a volunteer. I, therefore, consider myself a paid employee and, as such, take my work very seriously.

My first week was devoted to getting to know the Jewish community here in Dnepropetrovsk. I visited the JDC office, the Jewish Community Center (JCC), Chessed (a center which runs programs for the elderly Jews in the community), the new synagogue, the Jewish school (actually, there are three schools in the same facility– one religious one for boys, one religious one for girls, and one not-quite-secular-but-far-less-religious one that is co-ed), Beit-Chana (the university for women studying to become Jewish teachers), and Beit-Baruch (the nursing home for 60 elderly Jews erected by the Boston JCRC). I met the main characters in each location, and I especially devoted my time to auditing the various programs the JCC offers to the community. My boss Amir told me right off the bat that I should take a few weeks to get my bearings and figure the place out before I get involved in any one project. JDC is very much about understanding what the community wants, based on how it already functions. It would be pretty useless and maybe even detrimental for me to enter into an already high functioning organization and create a new program that just won’t work with the system in place. After I understand Dnepropetrovsk and fully grok the people in the Jewish community, then I can go about changing it.

Read the rest of this entry »