American-style JCC opens in Kiev with help from JDC
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American-style JCC opens in Kiev with help from JDC

(JTA) — The Ukrainian capital of Kiev, where Jewish cultural life has largely revolved around the city’s synagogues, opened its first American-style Jewish community center.

Hundreds of guests attended the opening ceremony Tuesday for the Halom JCC in central Kiev, where it is expected to serve thousands of community members every month, according to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which opened the center with the local community.

With a floor space of 17,000 square feet, the Halom JCC “serves as a multi-generational hub for Jewish cultural, educational, community, and social service programs and activities,” the JDC said in a statement issued Tuesday.

The building features recreational rooms for yoga classes, speech therapy and crafts workshops, as well as an entire floor dedicated to children’s activities, said the JCC’s director, Anna Bondar.

“Halom means dream in Hebrew, and as soon as you enter the building you see it is very fitting: Everything is very bright, colorful. It’s basically a paradise for children,” she told JTA on Monday.

Community members voted on the name, she said.

The building also features a youth club with PlayStations, Xboxes and compatible computer games.

The JCC’s estimated operating budget for 2017 is approximately $386,000, a large sum in a country where the average salary in January-April was 4,686 hryvnia, or $188 per month.

“The dedication of the Halom JCC is yet another step forward in the evolution of Jewish life in Kiev, showcasing the revitalization of Jewish culture, state-of-the-art care for the poorest Jews, and the tenacity of Ukrainian Jews to forge on in their community building despite the issues faced by their country,” JDC President Stan Rabin and CEO Alan Gill wrote in a statement.

Kiev has Ukraine’s largest concentration of Jews, with 110,000 of the approximately 350,000 Jews living in the country, according to the European Jewish Congress. It also has seen an influx of internally displaced refugees, Jewish and otherwise, since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and helped separatists set up enclaves in the country’s east. Those moves followed the ouster in 2013 of a president seen as pro-Russian in a bloody revolution that, for a time, largely shut down the Ukrainian economy and halved the local currency’s value.

The new JCC houses an office of the Jewish Family Service, where at-risk families are aided and displaced Jews from Ukraine’s east are given opportunities to integrate, JDC said.

During the unrest, Jewish cultural life largely ground to a halt in Kiev, where holding community events was deemed too risky, partly because of problems connected to providing protection to the dozen or so synagogues and cultural institutions spread across the city. Activities returned to normal by the summer of 2014.

JDC opened the first American-style JCC in the southern city of Odessa, where some 45,000 Jews live, in 2010. That JCC, Beit Grand, has emerged as the main hub for cultural Jewish life in Odessa.