20 Facts about Hillel in the Former Soviet Union


1. The first FSU Hillel opened in 1994 in Moscow as a collective effort of Hillel International, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. 2. There are now 18 Hillels working in the FSU, covering eight time zones, from Minsk Hillel in Belarus to Khabarovsk Hillel in Russia’s Far East. 3. Every year, FSU Hillels engage about 14,000 students and young adults in Jewish life. 4. Women make up 50 percent of FSU Hillel directors. 5. The overwhelming majority of Jewish students come to Hillel in FSU from completely assimilated families with almost no Jewish backgrounds. Students from St. Petersburg Hillel light Shabbat candles, many for the first time in their lives. 6. Hillels in FSU work with other national and ethnic … [Read more...]

On Both Sides of Ukraine Ceasefire Line, Thousands to Attend JDC Passover Events

Odessa Children Pesach at Beit Grand JCC (7)

Even amid a crippling humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) will hold a variety of Passover-related activities - from Seder feasts to matzah baking and Passover cooking workshops - for thousands of Jews at JDC's 32 Hesed social welfare centers and JDC-supported Jewish Community Centers on both sides of the ceasefire line throughout Ukraine. In addition, JDC volunteers and staff will deliver nearly 48,000 free packages of matzah, the unleavened bread traditionally consumed on the holiday, to needy Ukrainian Jews. In Donetsk and Lugansk, cities severely damaged during fighting and now under separatist control, JDC will hold matzah-baking classes for children, Seders for the elderly, and workshops on Passover foods and customs. In Mariupol, a … [Read more...]

Despite Ongoing Trials of History, Ukraine Matzah Bakery Continues Its Unique Legacy

Harvesting shmura, “guarded” wheat from fields surrounding Dnepropetrovsk to be ground into flour for matzah. Rabbi Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi, the longtime chief rabbi of Kfar Chabad who passed away in January, is on the far right. Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki, the chief rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk, walks ahead of him. Photo courtesy DJC.com.ua.

By Dovid Margolin At the state-of-the-art Tiferes Hamatzos bakery in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, matzahs are hand-rolled and baked under strict rabbinical supervision. In this eastern Ukrainian city - the country’s fourth-largest, and historically one of its most Jewish - the crisp, round matzahs are carefully packaged and then shipped throughout Ukraine. But Dnepropetrovsk’s matzah output goes far beyond Ukraine’s redrawn borders; the bakery annually produces more than 70 tons of the crunchy unleavened bread, much of which is sent abroad and made available to consumers in Europe, the Americas and even Israel. For generations, matzah-baking in the Soviet Union was a hidden, secretive affair. Despite its constantly shifting legal status, with matzah production deemed a crime in some years and … [Read more...]

Displaced by Conflict in Ukraine, a Young Jewish Activist Shares Her Story with American Jewish Audiences


When the daily shelling began to be too much to bear last June, 23-year-old Masha Shumatskaya packed up her belongings and left her hometown of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine for the safety of Kharkov. Since then, she’s become one of 2,500 internally displaced Jews aided by JDC after they fled fierce fighting between government and separatist forces. Today, JDC also continues to serve thousands of needy Jews in the separatist-controlled regions as well. In response, JDC has deployed emergency services assisting Jews caught up in the conflict, including: extra food, medicine, and medical care; crisis-related home repairs; extra winter items such as warm bedding, clothing, utility stipends, and space heaters; and a full aid package, emergency housing, and post-trauma care for displaced Jews - … [Read more...]

Amid Crisis, JDC Ensures Purim Celebrations for Ukraine’s Jews

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Despite an ongoing crisis in Ukraine, exacerbated today by growing humanitarian needs, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and Jews around Ukraine celebrated Purim this week with a series of events across the country, including in cities in and near the conflict zone. For Jews who are displaced or those remaining in separatist controlled areas, Purim will be marked by synagogue services, concerts, and other special holiday gatherings at JDC-supported Jewish community and social welfare centers. Additionally, JDC and its local volunteers will deliver mischloach manot (gift packages) to homebound elderly and displaced Jewish families. Purim events and gift package delivery - including the holding of humorous Purimspeils (traditional holiday parody plays) - are due to take … [Read more...]

Iron Dome Wanted: A Rare Visit to a Jewish Refugee Camp in Ukraine

Learning Hebrew. Jewish refugees in a Jewish Agency facility in Eastern Ukraine. Courtesy Walla.

The fighting in Eastern Ukraine has made hundreds of thousands homeless, and only some of them have a place to go. While both sides resist being labeled anti-Semites, The Jewish Agency has begun an operation to rescue the Jews in the battlezones. Here, a Walla reporter talked to them about what the refugees are leaving behind and the hope of a new life in Israel: “Know that your government cares about its people.” By Amir Tibon, Saturday, January 31, 2015 The white minibus stopped at the entrance to the refugee camp during the early afternoon hours. The nervous passengers looked around and saw only snow and trees. The air was frozen. They had been traveling all morning, passing from one roadblock to another, each one manned by an armed militia of one kind or another. Now, for the first … [Read more...]

JDC Hesed Jewish Center in Kramatorsk Hit By Rocket Attack

Damage from an artillery attack is seen in a residential area of Kramatorsk, Feb. 10, 2015. Photo Voice of America.

The JDC-supported Hesed social welfare center in Kramatorsk was hit by two rockets earlier today. The rockets, which damaged the 9-story building where the center is located, did not explode as one hit the roof and another landed in the backyard. No injuries were immediately reported and the building has been evacuated. The attack was part of a barrage that landed near the city center, reportedly killing 5 and wounding 26. "This latest development is another stark reminder of the harsh conditions on the ground that impact the lives of the most vulnerable in Ukraine everyday," said JDC CEO Alan H. Gill. The Kramatorsk Hesed, which serves over 560 elderly and poor Jews and employs 42 people, is part of a network of 32 JDC-supported social welfare centers serving 60,000 needy Jews in more than … [Read more...]

Rocket Attack in Mariupol, Ukraine, Leaves Jewish Community on Edge

Mariupol, Ukraine, was hit by a massive rocket attack in the Vastochni neighborhood of the city on Shabbat morning. It was the most violent day the city's seen in the past six months. Photo: City of Mariupol Website.

Many make plans to leave for good; others adopt ‘wait-and-see’ approach, with foreboding for future. By Dovid Margolin Shabbat-morning prayers were about to start at the synagogue in Mariupol, Ukraine, when the rocket barrage came. “The whole synagogue was shaking; we knew right away this was very serious,” says Rabbi Mendel Cohen, the seaside city’s rabbi and Chabad-Lubavitch emissary. Moments after it ended, the synagogue’s security guard, Vlad, came running in with the news: Mariupol had been hit by a massive and sustained rocket attack in the Vastochni neighborhood of the city. When the dust had settled, the attack left 30 civilians dead and more than 100 wounded, marking Mariupol’s bloodiest day since last May and a significant escalation in the war in eastern Ukraine. Fired … [Read more...]