Federation Partner Spotlight: Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)

New JCC in Kiev delivers state-of-the-art Jewish culture and social services  

 

By Joint Distribution Committee

 

Anna Bondar knows very well just how critical it is for Ukraine’s Jews to have a vibrant Jewish community and cultural hub. “Last year [2016] was not the easiest year for the country, so it’s important people know they have a place where they can receive support, talk to other members of the Jewish community, and forget about their problems for a while,” said Bondar, the 30-year-old director of the Halom Jewish Community Center (JCC) in central Kiev.

 

Officially dedicated in November 2016, the Halom JCC offers programs spanning four generations. A showcase for Ukraine’s renaissance of Jewish culture and thriving Jewish life, Halom—”dream” in Hebrew—also highlights the power of community-building and the tenacity of the Jews who engage in that work.

 

 “When you enter Halom, you immediately feel its warmth, as if it’s home,” Bondar said. “Everyone there smiles, asks how you are doing, and even stops to discuss the day’s news. The center is filled with the laughter of children and the voices of the elderly singing their favorite Jewish songs. It is vibrant and alive, which is so important, especially now.”

 

Volunteers of all ages are central to Halom’s approach, helping foster a spirit of community service in Ukraine’s post-Soviet generations and even giving an outlet for active, engaged elderly. Lidia Horelik, 71, has volunteered at Halom since it opened its doors, viewing service as an extension of her Jewish identity.

 

“For me, it is important to be needed, to help people, and to give them joy through organizing celebrations like concerts,” she said. “I enjoy being in demand, and there are so many activities at Halom where I can apply my energy, while continuing to discover hidden talents I wasn’t aware of until now.”

 

Halom serves as a connector for Jewish cultural, educational, community, and social service programs and activities. In addition, the center helps to catalyze teen leadership, and organizes a youth club, leadership training programs, Sunday school, a cinema club, vocational assistance program, summer camps, weekend retreats, Shabbat experiences, and tours to historic Jewish sites in Kiev.

 

Innovating JDC’s approach to elder care, Halom also houses a senior club that offers a range of activities for the mobile elderly. This marks the first time that this type of center is located outside of a JDC-supported Hesed social welfare center, traditionally the home for these programs. Jewish Family Service, the Jewish community center program that aids at-risk families and enables needy children to engage in traditional community activities, as well as assists displaced Jews from Ukraine’s east in integrating into their new location, is also located within the multipurpose facility, which brings together Jews of all types, backgrounds, and interests.

 

“I’m proud that Halom is a place where different generations can join together in various programs,” Bondar said. “For example, we have cooking classes where the elderly can share their cooking expertise with children as they make meals as a team. We also have big Jewish holidays and events where all four generations of Halom’s Jews can rejoice and have fun, no matter their age.”

 

For Bondar, Halom’s mission is to ensure that the Jewish future in Ukraine is more than a fervent hope—it’s a promise and a guarantee. “There’s a whole generation of young Ukrainian Jews who find out that they’re Jewish and want to connect to the Jewish world, but they don’t know how. There are many Holocaust survivors like my grandparents, for whom the thought of having a Jewish home where they can get together and sing Jewish songs and eat challah is something they could never have dreamed of some 50 years ago,” she said. “Halom is here to ensure that every community member’s dreams about the Jewish future in Ukraine will come true.”