General Information on Ukrainian Jewish Organizations
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General Information on Ukrainian Jewish Organizations

Ukraine is the legal successor of the Ukraine SSR. Its area is 603.7 thousand kilometers square. Its population, as of September 2010, is 45.83 million.

After the constitutional reform of 2004 has been proclaimed void in 2010, the preceding mixed presidential-parliamentary government system was restored in Ukraine. The state President since February 2010 is Viktor Yanukovich, the Prime Minister is Nikolai Azarov.

In the census of 2001, 103,600 people identified themselves as Jewish. Only 3,100 of these named Yiddish as their native language. Jewish organization leaders estimate the Jewish population of the state between 200 and 400 thousand, but many of them simply did not note their ethnicity or concealed it. The average age of Ukrainian Jews is over 50 years old. Even now this factor could lead to an abrupt shrinkage of the community. Next to Ashkenazi Jews, there are small groups of Krymchaks (700), Bukharian, Mountain, and Georgian Jews living in the state. There is also a small community of Crimean Karaites (834 according to the 2001 census, 671 of them in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea). Krymchaks and Karaites are autochtonous Jewish sub-ethnic groups, officially classed as two of the few “indigenous” ethnicities of Ukraine. However, the official leaders of most Ukrainian Karaite organizations (especially the Krymkarailar Association of Crimean Karaites, the Supreme Council of Crimean Karaites of Ukraine, and the Religious Board of Ukrainian Karaites) refuse to consider Karaites a part of the Jewish nation, emphasizing instead the Turkic elements of their culture. The path of “Turkicizing” their national identity was also chosen by some Krymchak organization leaders.

According to information held by the State Committee on Ethnicities and Religions, there were 288 national Jewish organizations and 297 Judaic religious congregations registered in Ukraine in the beginning of 2010. About 100 Jewish charitable organizations and foundations should be added to this number. However, according to data held by Nativ, only 15 percent of Ukrainian Jews (or, more precisely, people entitled to repatriation according to the respective Israeli law) take any part in the programs and events of these organizations; 85 percent of Ukraine’s Jews do not participate in organized Jewish community life.

There are offices of the main international Jewish organizations in Ukraine: the JDC, the Sochnut, the Claims Conference, and the Hillel. There are Sochnut offices in over 70 Ukrainian cities; the JDC has missions in four cities and supports Cheseds (welfare centers) in almost 70 cities with about

120,000 clients at the peak of their development in the early 2000s. At the same time, some cities in the western part of Ukraine have their own charitable organization, joined in the Charity – Magen Avot system, established in the early 1990s by the Va’ad of Ukraine and supported by the Association of Judaic Religious Organizations of Ukraine; most its offices were given over to the Joint in 1996.

There are several all-Ukrainian Jewish organizations and umbrella unions of local communities. In contrast to the international structures, the “autochthonous” unions are characterized by a lack of rigid hierarchy. In the existing Ukrainian reality these are local organizations, existing rather autonomously, whose participation in an umbrella union or other is formal enough and has little impact on everyday activities. This relates even to Chabad organizations, which in other FSU states are known for their rather centralized
structure and hierarchy.

The Va’ad (Association of Jewish organizations and communities) of Ukraine (chairman Yosif Zissels) was established officially in January 1991 (registered in May 1991, the first all-Ukrainian Jewish unions to attain registration); before that it was in fact a part of the united Va’ad of the USSR (Confederacy of Jewish organizations and communities of the USSR). Today the Va’ad of Ukraine unites 266 organizations from 90 cities and is the most authoritative umbrella organization of the Ukrainian Jewish communities within the state and in the world Jewry system. In 2002, the Va’ad became one of the co-founders of the Euro-Asian JewishCongress (EAJC) with Y. Zissels presiding over the Congress’ General Council.

The Jewish Council of Ukraine (chairman Ilya Levitas) was established in 1992 on the basis of the Republican Association of Jewish Culture (established in 1991), which in turn was the successor of the Kiev Association of Jewish Culture, founded as far back as 1988.

The All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress (VEK, president Vadim Rabinovich) was established in 1997. In 1999 V. Rabinovich became leader of the All Ukrainian Union of Jewish Public Organizations “United Jewish Community of Ukraine” (OEOU; the abbreviated version of the title is used as a rule). However, in reality all Jewish leaders could not be united under Rabinovich’s lead. Still, the AJC has made a number of indisputable achievements, among others – a presence in the informational space.

In 2008, at the Third convention of the OEOU, major entrepreneur, one of the wealthiest people in Ukraine, Igor Kolomoyski was elected its president. He had earlier exhibited no great activity in Jewish public life on a pan-Ukrainian level, but was known for his financial support of the Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk. In October 2010, Mr. Kolomoysky was elected President of the European Council of Jewish Communities (a secondary association of small European organizations whose vice-president is the president of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Council V. Rabinovich).

The Jewish Fund of Ukraine (EFU) was formed in the same year, 1997. Its founder and first president was Alexander Feldman, entrepreneur from Kharkov and people’s deputy of Ukraine; its executive director was Arcady Monastyrski. In 2008 the EFU founders parted ways. A. Feldman together with Eduard Dolinski (former executive director of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine) founded the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, meant to become more of a political, representative, and lobbyist institution than a communal one, much like its American counterpart. Businessman Oleg Grossman became the new EFU president with A. Monastyrski remaining the executive director. At the same time, Mr. Monastyrski registered another all-Ukrainian organization in 2008 with the same abbreviation: the Jewish Forum of Ukraine – and uses that title at times.

The Jewish Fund of Ukraine and the Jewish Forum of Ukraine can be unofficially considered the Jewish organizations closest to the state’s new leaders who came to power in 2010.

The Jewish Confederacy of Ukraine (EKU, president Sergey Maximov) was created in 1999. There are also several all-Ukrainian religious Jewish unions.

The orthodox communities are united in the Chabad Lubavitch Association of Jewish Religious Organizations of Ukraine (former Federation of Ukrainian Jewish Communities, FUJC, leader Rabbi Meir Stambler, comprises123 registered communities according to official data true to February 2010), the Association of Judaic Religious Organizations of Ukraine (OIROU, executive director Yevgeny Ziskind, according to official data comprises 84 communities), and the All-Ukrainian Congress of Judaic Religious Communities (VKIRO, chair R. Moshe-Reuven Asman, 13 registered communities). Followers of Reform Judaism have their own organization – the Religious Association of Progressive Judaism Congregations of Ukraine (ROOPIU), comprising 51 registered congregations. Other 26 officially registered religious communities do not belong to any all-Ukrainian union and act independently.
Several religious leaders at once are competing for the title of Chief Rabbi of Ukraine. In 1991, Karlin-Stolin Hasid R. Yakov-Dov Bleich was proclaimed Chief Rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine. However, at the 2003 Convention of the rabbis of Ukraine, Chabad Lubavitch representative R. Azriel Haykin was elected chief rabbi. He was supported mostly by rabbis who are members of the FUJC (the majority in Ukraine), however, as OIROU and VKIRO rabbis also took part in the convention, R. Haykin’s election as chief rabbi could be considered legitimate. Regardless of this, at the 2005 convention of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress another chief rabbi was elected – R. Moshe-Reuven Asman, who also belongs to Lubavitch Hasidism, but is in conflict with the FUJC. Throughout these years, R. Bleich has continued referring to himself as Chief Rabbi of Ukraine. Moreover, the Reform congregations elected a chief Progressive rabbi – Rabbi Alex Dukhovny – in 2003. In 2008, R. A. Haykin left his post due to age and health conditions.

In 2008, with the aid of I. Kolomoyski and Gennady Bogolyubov, construction of a new community center, announced to be the largest in the FSU, began in Dnipropetrovsk. By fall 2010, most of the construction work had already been finished.
There are one or two locally notable communities each of Skver, Braslav, and other Hassidim in Ukraine. The Conservative movement is noticeable in Chernivtsi, Berdichev, Kiev, and other cities. In 2006, a mission of Midreshet Yerushalayim was registered in Ukraine, an Israeli organization carrying out educational activities as part of the Conservative Judaism Movement (head of the mission Gila Katz, director of Midreshet Yerushalayim in the FSU and Eastern Europe). At the same time, the Educational and Cultural Center of the Conservative Judaism Movement was opened in Kiev (program coordinator
Diana Gold).

The Ukrainian Kashrut Committee is a branch of the Kashrut Department of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia; its head is chief rabbi of Donetsk, rabbi Pinkhas Vyshetzki. The Magen League is very active in Ukraine, fighting against messianic Judeo-Christian movements which try to convert Jews to their beliefs. The activities of messianic Jewish unions (such as Jews for Jesus, etc.) are quite evident in Ukraine, but following pressure from Orthodox organizations, now even from the state’s point of view these organizations are not Jewish – despite their demands, the State Committee on Ethnicities and Religions will not register them as officially Judaic.

A significant range of issues has to do with restitution of Jewish communal property. In March 1992, the president signed a bill “On measures of returning cult property to religious organizations”, according to which religious communities must receive back their cult buildings and properties confiscated in Soviet times. As a result, due to efforts on the part of Jewish organizations, several provincial synagogues were returned as well as two synagogues in Kiev – the Galitzkaya and the Central Synagogue of Kiev (the Brodsky synagogue); in the latter case the community funded the relocation of the puppet theatre previously housed in the synagogue building to other premises. Several buildings have been given over to religious communities by local authorities instead of synagogue buildings that had been destroyed (Bila Tzerkva, Cherkasy, Ovruch, Chernihiv, Novohrad-Volynskyi). The Va’ad of Ukraine and the OIROU are engaged in restitution issues the most, launching in 1995 a project of cataloging Jewish property in Ukraine.

Out of more than 2,500 objects of former Jewish property known to the Va’ad, about 50 have been returned in 15 years. The restitution process is complicated by the fact that despite numerous attempts the state has not compiled a registry of Jewish cult buildings, and as a result it is often the case that as institutions which are located on synagogue premises, are privatized, so are the buildings.

There have also been scandals to do with the fact that in the rare cases when communities had been allowed to store and use Torah scrolls from the state balance, archival organizations accuse (as far as can be seen, falsely) the communities of damaging state property and demand the return of the scrolls, also through court.

Virtually all Jewish cemeteries in Ukraine are in extremely poor condition. Despite an existing agreement with the USA and a corresponding edict from the Cabinet, the state does not attend to this problem while the communities lack necessary funds to look after the cemeteries. In the recent years the “Lo Tishkach” project carried out significant work in describing and cleaning old cemeteries.

Like in the rest of the FSU, one of the greatest problems of the Jewish community of Ukraine is its strong dependence on outside funding, and a lack of funds for communal programs. According to the estimations of the Va’ad of Ukraine, only about 50 percent of the relative common budget of the Jewish community of Ukraine is collected within Ukraine itself, most of it through the efforts of the Chabad.

According to monitoring data by the Va’ad of Ukraine and the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, the number of registered manifestations of anti-Semitism has been decreasing in the past years. This is true both of the number of violent incidents and the volume of anti-Semitic publications in the press.

However, anti-Semitic behavior is evident during political campaigns. For instance, during the presidential elections of 2010, a candidate running for head of state actively used anti-Semitic rhetoric in his campaign (Sergei Ratushnyak). Another candidate was the leader of a radical right-wing group, earlier known for his anti-Semitic statements (Oleh Tyahnybok). The electoral support of anti-Semitic candidates was minimal. Nonetheless, the most extensive manifestations of anti-Semitism during the campaign had to do with attempts to discredit by their alleged Jewish descent the more popular politicians – Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Yuliya Timoshenko.

Diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Israel were established in 1991. Zina Kalai-Kleitman is Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the State of Israel to Ukraine since 2007. An Israeli-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce exists (presided over by Vadim Rabinovich). In 2008, Israel appointed its first attache for commerce in Ukraine Alexandra Aronina (prior to that, the attache for commerce at the Israeli embassy in Bucharest was in charge of Ukrainian relations).

There are 37 Jewish day schools in Ukraine, which (until fall 2008) were mainly financed by the Chabad Or Avner Foundation, 60 Sunday schools, 11 kindergartens, 8 yeshivas, and 70 ulpans, attended by approximately 10,000  children and adults in total. Aside from Chabad schools, there are also classical schools, supported by the Karlin-Stolin Orach Chaim foundation, a network of ORT technological lyceums, and a day school, established by the Conservative Judaism Movement (in Chernitvtsi). The Va’ad of Ukraine has a Jewish education center. The main problem of Jewish secondary education is the low marketability of Jewish schools in terms of location, equipment, level of instruction in general subjects, and prospects of entering prestigious higher education institutions. Children’s, youth, and family summer recreation camps are organized with the aid of the Sochnut, the JDC, the Or Avner, Midreshet Yerushalayim, and the Va’ad of Ukraine.

Higher education in the field of Jewish Studies is underdeveloped in Ukraine. Certain knowledge in this field can be obtained in Kiev at the International Solomon University (head of the promoting council Roman Shapshovich, rector Alexander Rosenfeld) and at its Eastern-Ukrainian branch (VUF) in Kharkov. In 2008, it signed a cooperation agreement with Kharkov State University (KSU) and the Chais Center at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and as a result opened a joint center on the basis of the KSU. There is a women’s college in Dnipropetrovsk called Beyt Hanna. A religious Jewish university has been operating since 2003 in Odessa (known since 2008 as the “Chabad- Odessa” South-Ukrainian Jewish University), which affords religious students the possibility to obtain economic and humanitarian education.

A two-year certification program in Jewish Studies has been functioning since 2003 at the humanities department of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (NaUKMA).

In 1993, the Va’ad of Ukraine founded the Judaica Institute in Kiev (JI, founder Leonid Finberg, director since 2006 Yuliya Smilyanskaya), which is now carrying out several dozen research projects. The JI holds annual conferences on Jewish history and culture in Eastern Europe and has many archival and publishing activities. In 2006 the Judaica Institute and the Jewish Studies office of the Vernadsky Central Academic Library joined forces to create the Center of History and Culture of Eastern European Jews at the NaUKMA (director Leonid Finberg). The Center continued several programs of the Judaica Institute, and initiated several new research and publishing projects.

A major cultural event on a national scale was the 2008 exhibition,“Kultur-Liga. The artistic avant-garde of the 1910-1920s”, held at the Ukrainian State Museum of Art. A catalog was published, and several thematic events held in honor of the Kultur-Liga and its heritage. The exhibition was organized mainly by the Center of History and Culture of Eastern European Jews.

There is a Center of Jewish Culture and History (before 2008 – Department of the History and Culture of the Jewish Nation) in the I. Kuras Institute of ethno-national and political research at the National Academy of Science of Ukraine. The Institute also hosts the All-Ukrainian Center of Holocaust History Studies (director Dr. Anatoly Podolski). Ukrainian researchers have made significant achievements in their study of Holocaust history. The Kiev Center of Holocaust History Studies and the Dnipropetrovsk Tkuma Center both publish topical academic magazines – Kholokost i Sovremennost (Holocaust and Modernity) and Voprosy Kholokosta (Issues of the Holocaust) respectively.

Since 2004, a number of educational and research projects have been realized by the International Center for Jewish Education and Field Studies (director Artem Fedorchuk, coordinator in Ukraine Vyacheslav Likhachev). A museum of the history of Jewish life in Bukovina was opened in Chernivtsi in 2008, with the financial support of the EAJC. A museum of the Holocaust and Ukrainian Jewish history is being built in Dnipropetrovsk by the efforts of the local community. Many provincial museums (Vinnytsa, Mariupol, Khmelnytsky, Bakhmut) feature expositions dedicated to the history of the Jewish communities of the region.

Two new synagogues were opened in the country in 2010: in Kryvyi Rih and Kherson.

Published newspapers: Khadashot (News, published since 1991 by the Va’ad of Ukraine), VEK (published by the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress since 1997), Yevreyskie Vesti (Jewish News, published by the Jewish Council of Ukraine, funded by the State Committee on Ethnicities and Religions). Notable magazines: the literary-journalistic almanac Yegupetz (published by the Kiev Judaica Institute). Virtually all large regional communities have their own publications (about 30).