As part of Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry's Yad L'Yad program, our congregation supports the school and community of Berdichev, Ukraine.
North Suburban Synagogue Beth El has been involved with the tiny Jewish community in Berdichev, Ukraine for over 10 years, and things have changed dramatically over that time. We partnered with the community there through the auspices of the Yad L’Yad program of Chicago Action for Jews in the Former Soviet Union. When we first began the program in 1994, we were told that the population of the community was 800 Jews. It is likely that they are down to 500 Jews by now, most of whom are elderly. Many younger families have moved to Israel, and recently, many are going to Germany (!) The situation of the elderly is dire – they lack for medical attention, heat in the winter, food. The Joint Distribution Committee helps somewhat, as do local agencies, but it’s still terrible.
Our congregation has determined that, while we would love it if ALL the Jews left the Former Soviet Union, we had to face the reality that many would be unable or unwilling to leave. So, we are committed to helping to pay the rent, buy supplies and pay for teachers for a Sunday School, which educates about 60 children. Our contact in the school is Polina Grinberg, to whom we give the money, as well as sending medicines, Jewish ritual objects, etc.
All contributions should be made payable to North Suburban Synagogue Beth El. The money is used to assist the school, and to provide necessary supplies for the people there.
For further information, feel free to contact Cheryl Banks, 847-432-8900 ext. 242, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In July, 2004, Cheryl and Ted Banks were able to visit Berdichev, Ukraine, while on a UJC Campaign Cabinet Mission. They visited the synagogue of Berdichev, met Rabbi Shlomo Breuer, and saw the hesed of Berdichev.
We then met Polina Grinberg, the head of the Sunday School in Berdichev. She took us to see the children, who greeted us with the song "Heveinu Shalom Aleichem!" They sang many other songs, and told us about why they love being Jewish.
Finally, we visited the cemetery, in which is buried Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev. The cemetery itself was overgrown with weeds, and had thousands of gravestones, many tipped over from age and neglect.
In early July, 2003, we went three packages to Berdichev, containing medicines, school supplies, sugar substitute and English books. On August 7 we received the following reply by fax:
We received the boxes you sent us. Thank you so much for your care and help. Some of our people need sugar substitute, vitamins, painkillers, and high blood pressure medications. All these were in your boxes and will be used with gratitude. The Hebrew School students will be very glad to receive your gifts. We’ll make pictures with the camera you sent us and will send it back to you to be developed.
We wish you health and many, many years of good life. We wish you success in your noble activity.