KRAKOW (Nov. 3)
The opening of a new Jewish community complex represents new life for the inhabitants of one Ukrainian city. The complex of buildings for Zaparozhye’s Jewish community, funded in part by Britain’s World Jewish Relief charity, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and other donors, opened Oct. 25.
The project is the brainchild of Nigel Ross, who works with World Jewish Relief. When he visited Zaparozhye three years ago, Ross saw the need for a center to unite the Jewish community, which numbers 15,000-20,000 and ranges from Orthodox to progressive.
Nigel Layton, World Jewish Relief’s chairman, said his organization wanted to adopt a town and really get to know the Jewish community.
“We wanted to bond,” said Layton, “and we were looking for a community where we could make a real difference.”
The new complex includes a Jewish community center with a theater, gym, kosher kitchen, library and a welfare center where food packages are made and sent to community members in outlying locales who have trouble leaving home.
A second building houses a Jewish school and orphanage, and a third was renovated to house a kindergarten.
The project cost some $1.1 million, primarily from British Jewish donors.
The building was full for the opening ceremony. Attending were Zaporozhye’s chief rabbi, Nochum Erentroy, and its mayor, Yevgeniy Kartashov, among other dignitaries.
World Jewish Relief will maintain the building for several years, but they hope that control eventually will be handed to the community. The organization foresees charging for gym memberships and other small fees to pay for maintenance.
Zaparozhye’s total population is about 850,000. On a typical Shabbat, approximately 100 Jews attend Orthodox services in Zaparozhye, which are led by Rabbi Erentroy, and some 300 go to High Holiday services.
“The community is really on the up,” Layton said.
Some 500,000 Jews are believed to live in Ukraine. Many live below the poverty line, and benefit greatly from the attention of concerned Jews overseas.
“The new center will change the lives of many of the community and provide a warm place to practice Judaism and meet friends,” one community member said.
“To celebrate the opening we had a big celebration with the Israeli flag on the main streets, which I don’t think would have been possible a few years ago,” Layton said. “There seems to be little problem here with anti-Semitism.”