Following are reflections on the Dnipro Kehillah Project (DKP), a partnership between CJP and the Jewish community of Dnipro, Ukraine, which Barbara Gaffin helped initiate at the Jewish Community Relations Council in 1994 when she served as JCRC associate director. She will continue to serve as director of the DKP under CJP until the end of June 2020.

Over 26 years ago, many of you and I embarked on a journey to revive a Jewish community that had been all but decimated during the 70 years of communism. Under the volunteer leadership of Bob Gordon and other committed Soviet Jewry activists, and with organizational support from JCRC, we offered a partnership to our “chosen” city, then called Dnipropetrovsk, led by Rabbi Kaminezki and his wife, Chanie.

Boston’s partnership with Dnipropetrovsk electrified our community; it became a symbol of hope for those in Dnipro, and served as a magnet for those who were committed to humanitarianism and expressed their Jewish identity through this lens.

So many of you played a unique role in making the partnership as impactful and meaningful as it is today.

Barbara Gaffin and Betsy Hecker join volunteer big brothers and sisters at DKP sponosored event in Dnipro, September 2017. Also pictured front center, Yan Sidelkovsky, DKP Coordinator, Dnipro. (Courtesy photo)
Barbara Gaffin and Betsy Hecker join volunteer Big Brothers and Big Sisters at a DKP-sponsored event in Dnipro in September 2017 (Courtesy photo)

Who could have imagined that during the past two-and-a-half decades, Boston volunteers involved with the DKP would:

  • Create a groundbreaking program to change the national attitude toward children with disabilities (people like Dr. Judy Wolf and Sue Wolf-Fordham)
  • Save the lives of thousands of women by introducing pap smears (people like Dr. Ben Sachs)
  • Enact modern-day protocols for well-child visits so that absenteeism of children from school is greatly reduced (people like Dr. David Link)
  • Mentor hundreds of at-risk children through a Jewish Big Brother Big Sister program (people like Ery Magasanik)
  • Ensure that elderly Jews would not go hungry or feel forgotten (people like Judy Patkin and Debbie Kardon)
  • Develop a micro-enterprise program that would support women with few resources in creating businesses to lift themselves out of poverty (people like Bob and Doris Gordon)
  • Inspire young adults from Boston to engage with klal yisrael (people like Dave Shoenig and Matthew Feinberg)
  • Organize efforts to create a playground for the Educational Resource Center (people like Laura Magasanik)
  • Bring vaccines to a city that had none (people like Patty Ribakoff)
  • Sustain new mothers by developing a Visiting Moms program in conjunction with volunteers from JF&CS (people like Ann Levin)
  • Be a steadfast source for all medical issues, host physicians from Dnipro, deliver guidance and even share medical expertise in Dnipro for three months (people like Dr. Lew Lipsitz)
  • Advocate endlessly for improved health care systems, including a handicap accessible Menorah Center (people like Beth Moskowitz)
  • Offer professional consultations on exercise and fitness to the elderly (people like Francine Godfrey)
  • Institute an English language program (people like Louise Lipsitz)
  • Bring together hundreds of teens from dozens of schools for an annual two-week-long program that left a lifelong impact on participants in Dnipro, Boston and Haifa (groups like the Bureau of Jewish Education and Prozdor)
  • Help establish the first-of-its-kind senior housing (agencies like Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly)
  • Contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars for the benefit of Dnipro (people and groups like CJP, Bob and Doris Gordon, Seth and Beth Klarman, Charles and Patty Ribakoff, CJP Women’s Division and Missouri Leader Foundation)
  • Donate wisdom, advice, time and support (people like Betsy Hecker, Greta Rafsky, Debbie Whitehill, Fay Grajower z”l, Enid Shapiro z”l, Dr. Don Wertlieb, Dr. Sy Friedland and so many more)
  • Visit Dnipro, engage with our brothers and sisters there, send letters and pictures and connect in unimaginably creative ways (over 75 synagogues, religious schools, Jewish agencies, medical and educational institutions, community groups, day schools, camps and community centers)

The list could go on. Our partners on the ground in Dnipro, particularly Rabbi and Chanie Kaminezki, Yan Sidelkovsky and Zelig Brez, taught us lessons about the potential for klal yisrael and our shared humanity. Our relationship goes far beyond a partnership. They are colleagues, family and friends rolled into one.

Know that you’ve made a difference.

Know that the gratitude for what you’ve created runs deep.

Know that you’ve made history.

And know that, for me, it has been a privilege of a lifetime.