Jewish Confederation of Ukraine
President: Rabbi Yaakov Dov BLEICH
Vaad - Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine
Chairman: Joseph ZISSELS
The idea of a distinct Ukrainian Jewry has been revived in modern times. Historically, Jews living in various parts of the territory of present-day Ukraine identified themselves as Russian, Polish, Galician, Romanian, Bessarabian, Hungarian, or even Austrian Jews, and more recently as Soviet Jews.
As part of the Pale of Settlement in the 19th century, Ukraine was densely populated by Jews. Despite restrictions, Jews played a prominent role in the development of commerce and industry in the region, and especially in the growth of its major cities, such as Kyiv, Odessa, and Kharkiv. Many of the most important Jewish thinkers of the modern age were born there.
Throughout this time, religious and Zionist activity was forced underground. The Soviet government established four Jewish autonomous districts in the southern part of the republic and in Crimea. These settlements lasted until World War II, when they were overrun by the Germans and their inhabitants murdered. More than half the Jews living in Ukraine were murdered. The majority of the Soviet victims of the Holocaust were Ukrainian Jews, with the worst slaughter taking place at Babi Yar outside Kyiv.
The collapse of Communism and the re-creation of an independent Ukraine set the stage for a revitalization of Jewish life. While the Ukrainian government has been sensitive to the needs of Ukrainian Jewry, the precarious economic situation has been a decisive factor in the Aliya of Ukrainian Jews.
The Community Today
The Jews of Ukraine constitute the third largest Jewish community in Europe and the fifth largest in the world. Jews are mainly concentrated in Kyiv (110,000), Dnepropetrovsk (60,000), Kharkov (45,000), and Odessa (45,000). Jews also live in many of the smaller towns. Western Ukraine, however, has only a small remnant of its former Jewish population, with Lviv and Chernovtsy each having only about 6,000 Jews. The majority of Jews in present-day Ukraine are native Russian/Ukrainian speakers, and only some of the elderly speak Yiddish as their mother tongue (in 1926, 76.1% claimed Yiddish as their mother tongue). The average age is close to 45.
The leading umbrella organizations are the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine and the Jewish Council of Ukraine. The community is made up of many different Jewish religious and cultural groups, including a number of Zionist organizations.
The Union of Jewish Religious Organizations of Ukraine is a non-governmental organization founded in 1992. It supports Jewish communities and rebuilding Jewish religious life in Ukraine. The Union encompasses close to 100 Jewish organizations and communities from around Ukraine, including the Kiev Jewish Religious Community. The Union was one of the founders of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine.
The Rabbinical Court of Ukraine is the only institution in Ukraine where one can arrange Jewish marriages, conversion and any other Jewish judicial procedures.
The Legal Department of the Union of Jewish Religious Organizations of Ukraine assists Jewish organizations, communities and individuals with restitution of communal and individual Jewish property in Ukraine.
The Jewish Preservation Committee monitors sites considered to be part of the Jewish heritage of Ukraine, such as cemeteries, synagogues, prayer houses and other religious and communal buildings and facilities.
Approximately 500 Jewish communal buildings and synagogues located in different parts of Ukraine are still held by the state. Only 58 of these sites are in the process of being returned to Jewish communities by the government.
The Main Kiev Synagogue is located in Podol, at 29 Shekavitskaya Street. Built thanks to the dedication and generosity of Gabriel Yaakov Rosenberg in 1895, it is the oldest centre of Jewish religious and communal life in Kyiv.
Beith Yaakov Shul (Galitskaya Synagogue), built in 1909 and used for more than 50 years as a factory cafeteria, is among the Jewish communal buildings returned to the revived Jewish community of Kiev (2001).
The Main Kiev Synagogue offers the following services: daily minyan for residents and visitors of Kiev, shabbatonim and holiday programs for the local population including student programs, a kosher food and Judaica store, the mikva and its services, a kosher soup kitchen for needy elderly Jews and a matzot factory.
The Orach Chaim Children’s Homes for underprivileged children of The Ukrainian and Jewish Day School has an enrolment of close to 300 children. The school provides for the children’s physical, psychological, and emotional needs. It has two dormitories providing a home-like atmosphere with lots of love and attention for students who are homeless or abandoned. All our students are taught love of the Torah and love of Israel.
The Orach Chaim Israeli International School for ages 4-12 enables children to study Judaism and receive a secular elementary education, providing an opportunity for local religious families to bring up their sons in traditional cheder.
Yeshiva Orach Chaim was opened in 1995 as the first higher religious Jewish school for men to be licensed by the Ukrainian government. Two years ago, we opened Machon Orach Chaim for women who would like to study Judaism and Jewish subjects and live a Jewish life. At present there are 20 women ages 17-35 studying in our Machon. Some of the graduates work in our community.
Midrasha Zionit Educational Programs for Adults offers opportunities for young adults to study Jewish identity and heritage through special classes.
The Ronald S. Lauder Summer Camp Shuva for schoolchildren and college students was founded in 1990. It is located in a picturesque resort area of Kiev region. Each year, over 400 Jewish schoolchildren and students from Ukraine, Israel, Europe and America spend their summer vacation at our camp, where they learn about Judaism and Jewish traditions.
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Kiev Home for Assisted Living is a six-story 7,000m2 building providing a combination of residential and support services for the elderly. Some of the residents need round-the-clock care, while others are simply unable to live alone. Most of the seniors who benefit from the home are impoverished Holocaust survivors, and our home offers them a standard of care much higher than what they have previously known.
The French Memorial Shoah Foundation Day Centre for Holocaust Survivors, located on the ground floor of our K’HAL, caters to seniors from around Kiev. We provide the residents of the Home and visitors of the Day Centre with healthy meals, medical services, recreational activities and assistance with personal care.
The Dyna and Fala Weinstock Medical Clinic occupies one wing of the ground floor of the K’HAL. It is an outpatient Clinic offering a wide range of modern medical services for elderly patients, as well as daily advisory psychological services.
Culture and Education
The horrible slaughter at Babi Yar inspired the great Russian writer, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, to pen a powerful ode to the victims. His poem later became the theme for composer Dimitri Shostakovitch’s 13th Symphony. In 1963, both the poet and the composer were denounced by Soviet authorities.