When the News Gets Too Much to Handle

By Karen S. Bloom, Chief Advancement Officer

Non-stop press coverage showing images of the aftermath of terrorism in Paris and the United States, along with the recent attacks in Israel and other parts of the world can feel overwhelming.  Inflammatory rhetoric and fear mongering is the response which seems to get the most coverage.  Yet throughout the Project Kesher network a different news story has been unfolding.

Project Kesher leaders globally have taken to social media to denounce the violence. But more than just denouncing it, they took steps towards active prevention in 53 cities in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and Georgia, and in two cities in Israel, as part of a Global Week of Tolerance last month. Active in this annual initiative since 2006, Project Kesher partnered with more than 150 Jewish and secular organizations and brought together leaders and members of different religious and ethnic groups, non-profits and government agencies to focus on building peace and tolerance in community after community.  The initiative engaged 4,000 people directly, and an additional 100,000 people through mass media and city awareness campaigns. An international “Tablecloth of Peace,” patterned after the AIDS quilt project in the United States, sparked ongoing dialogue and is displayed in museums, government buildings and other places people gather. More than 2,000 teens and young people participated in thirty-six communities in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine.

Project Kesher’s Global Week of Peace coincides with The United Nations’ International Day of Tolerance on November 16th and the European Week of Tolerance.

In one week alone, Project Kesher planned over 100 separate events ranging from educational workshops, meetings, community events, trainings, city-wide campaigns, round-tables and more. In, Zaporozhye, Ukraine, “Trees of Peace” were planted with participants from the Jewish, Russian Orthodox, Muslim, Belorussian, Bulgarian, Polish, Armenian and other communities along with representatives of various organizations, government agencies and the media meeting in round-table discussions working collaboratively towards an inclusive community.

While the most sophisticated of programs brought together high ranking local government officials to commit to this issue, a different demographic caught my eye. Project Kesher activists in Kherson, Ukraine, brought children and their parents to a school for students with Down’s syndrome. They spoke to all of the children present about the importance of patience and tolerance and learning from each other. Joint activities were planned for the children and families to do together. The Director of the Center shared, “I was especially impressed by Project Kesher’s approach to this issue. Women brought their children with them and set an example of how to care about the needs of – and connect with – people with restricted abilities. The experience of communication between different children makes us understand that ‘different’ doesn’t mean ‘outsider’, and never should.”


So, when the news gets too much to handle, I like to think of the “other news” halfway around the world that is making my day so much easier. What do you do?

One of many “Trees of Peace” planted in Zaporozhe, Ukraine, on November 19th

One of many “Trees of Peace” planted in Zaporozhye, Ukraine, on November 19th.

mutual understanding program for children Donetsk, Ukraine

Project Kesher leading a program on “mutual understanding” for children – a second one was facilitated for teens in Donetsk, Ukraine.


The “Tablecloth of Peace” in Kursk, Russia, on November 17th.


Israel and Project Kesher: More Than Politics and Religion

By Erica Frederick
November 17, 2015

My sister, and Project Kesher board member, Sheila Lambert and I just returned from Israel where we were part of an art tour that the JCC of Manhattan sponsored. We visited the Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art, an innovative venture to make Jerusalem a destination for the arts. Its entrepreneurial organizer, Rami Ozeri, brought together over 200 contemporary artists housed in historic venues throughout the city, including the Tower of David Museum, the HUC-Skirball Museum of Archaeology, and the Great Synagogue.

I must admit that I had trepidations about traveling to Israel during this recent time of unrest. Although I have been in Israel during the worst of times—the second Intifada, disengagement, and the Lebanese war—somehow the randomness of the latest violence felt different to me. Sheila and I decided to go anyway because of our love for Israel, and our commitment to the JCC and its goal of making Israel a destination for pursuits beyond politics and religion. I was gratified to find that Jerusalem was as welcoming and restorative as I had always found it. I walked early every morning and visited all of the Biennale sites without fear.

Sheila and I also had another goal—to meet with and provide training for Irina Lutt and Olya Weinstein, who are taking over the leadership of Project Kesher-Israel from its founding director, Lesley Sachs. We spent an afternoon with Irina and Olya reviewing the budget, discussing board-staff relations, and offering advice and training in relationship-building, and fundraising with individual, foundation and corporate donors. We found Irina and Olya very open to learn from us and to take on the responsibility of stewarding PKI’s growth for the future.

On our last evening in Israel, we co-hosted the first-ever cultivation and networking event for PKI with Israeli Board member, Tamara Gottstein. Tammy had traveled with Project Kesher in 2004 on the Voyage on the Volga and, through her family foundation, was an early supporter of the ORT-KesherNet Computer Centers. She now supports PKI and became a Board member in 2014.

The evening in Tammy’s beautiful home in the Baca neighborhood of Jerusalem was magical and inspiring. Close to twenty Jerusalem leaders and activists joined us to learn about PKI and its efforts to assist Russian-speaking women who had made aliyah to build leadership, learn about Judaism and Jewish values and texts, and initiate meaningful social action initiatives. They were surprised to learn that one in six women in Israel is Russian-speaking, and that this community represents an often disenfranchised and neglected segment of Israeli society. It was wonderful to witness our guests networking and sharing ideas. And we know that the evening ended with possibilities for future funding, partners, and new board members.

A week later, back in New York, Sheila hosted a second event for Project Kesher-Israel, to welcome Rabbi Na’amah Kelman, Dean of Hebrew Union College’s Jerusalem School, as the new Chair of the Board of PKI. Na’amah was instrumental in the founding of PKI six years ago and has always offered the beautiful HUC campus as a site for PKI training and other activities. She herself has spent time in the countries of the former Soviet Union, bringing HUC rabbinic students to teach Torah and work in summer camps, JCCs and synagogues. She also traveled with Project Kesher to Ukraine in 2007. Na’amah concluded her remarks by asking us to imagine the untapped power of the Russian-speaking women in Israel. With PKI’s help, they have the potential for making great and lasting change in Israel as a democratic, multi-cultural and pluralistic state and to affect social change for themselves, their families, their communities and for Israeli society as a whole. I could not agree more.


Erica Frederick is a passionate and results-oriented nonprofit executive with years of experience overseeing major fundraising initiatives for Jewish and secular organizations. She has traveled numerous times to Russia, Ukraine and Israel and is a strong advocate for global social change and the empowerment of women and girls.

How One Nonprofit Senior Staff Uses Walks and Talks

This is reposted from an original post on Beth’s Blog

Carr Workplaces Monthly Walk Group Led By Karen Bloom on September 25, 2015

Carr Workplaces Monthly Walk Group Led By Karen Bloom on September 25, 2015

By Beth Kanter

Meet Karen Bloom who is Chief Advancement Officer for Project Kesher, an organization that trains women to become change-makers across 9 time zones, with leadership programs that are based on Jewish identity building and social activism.  She is a nonprofit senior staffer who knows the value of walking at work. Karen not only talks the talk, but she walks the talk. (Bad pun, I know)

I was introduced to Karen Bloom through Barbara Glickstein, a colleague who is connected with me on Facebook. When she saw the announcement for my next book, The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit, she told me, “You must interview Karen Bloom.” And, I’m so happy I got a chance to interview her. Here’s what I learned:

Karen learned about the importance of self-care as part of her organization’s work on issues of women’s empowerment and women’s equality in Eastern Europe and Israel. The organization has a focus on social justice activism and they work with women change makers.  They have a Women’s Health Initiative, but as Karen points out, “Before we can do work to spread health programming, we believe that women have to be good roles for taking care of themselves. Like when you are on the airplane, you are told to put on the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others. ” (continue here)

PK’s 2nd Annual Global Day Trip: What a Success!

Jennifer Daniels, Elena Feldman, Vlada Nedak, and Linda Wasserstein

On Sunday, October 25, 2015, Project Kesher women and men gathered at Civic Hall in NYC for our second annual Global Day Trip.

Rita Moser, Beth Caunitz, Vlada Nedak
Project Kesher leaders Vlada Nedak of Krivoy Rog, Ukraine (Director of Programming), and Elena Feldman of Tula, Russia (Communication and Project Management Officer), participated in a panel discussion moderated by PK Board Chair Barbara Glickstein. The women provided a perspective on the current situation in the region and Project Kesher’s response.Barbara Glickstein, Vlada Nedak, Elena Feldman

Professor Janet Johnson of Brooklyn College offered an historical and political view on women’s activism in Russia and Ukraine.Professor Janet E. Johnson

Rabbi Eleanor Smith led an inspiring Torah Return ceremony, with PK sending its 28th and 29th Torah Scrolls to the region (one going to Kaluga, Russia, and one to Melitopol, Ukraine). Elena Feldman said, “A synagogue without a Torah is like a person without a soul or heart,” as she accepted the scroll she would bring to Kaluga.Rabbi Eleanor SmithAce Leveen, Arleen Priest, Elena Feldman, Jennifer Daniels, Linda Wasserstein, and Rabbi Eleanor Smith

The event featured lunch at Georgian restaurant Pepela with wine tasting led by renowned Georgian wine expert Alice Feiring.Alice Feiring2 of 4 Georgian Wines Tasted

Remembering the Past as I Build a New Future

Elena Feldman, PK-CIS Communication and Project Management Officer and speaker at this year's Global Day Trip

Elena Feldman, PK-CIS Communication and Project Management Officer and speaker at this year’s Global Day Trip

Elena Feldman teaching ORT-KesherNet session in Tula, Russia

Elena Feldman leading an ORT-KesherNet session in Tula, Russia

By Elena Feldman

Living in Tula, Russia, I have a deep commitment and connection to my Jewish identity. I was privileged to be invited as a delegate to an international conference held in Prague, Czech Republic, on May 26-27th. The “Life with Dignity” conference was dedicated to the problems that face victims of Nazism and survivors of the Holocaust. The conference was organized by the European Shoah Legacy Institute and attended by representatives of public and government structures, nonprofit organizations and foundations from thirty-nine countries. Only two organizations represented the non-profit sector in Russia: the Tula Regional Jewish Charitable Center “Hasdey Neshama” and Jewish Charities “Family Center” (Rostov-on-Don).

I have been immersed in the Jewish community in Tula, Russia, since childhood, and my parents and all of my grandparents were actively and openly Jewish. I first connected with Project Kesher (PK) in 1998 at age eighteen, when I participated in the organization’s Jewish programming at university. In 2002, I was hired as the Administrator of the Tula ORT-KeshnerNet Computer Center – a partnership between World ORT and Project Kesher, and one of seventeen centers in the region providing computer skills and job training. I became the project coordinator for such initiatives as “Building Civil Society through Women’s Coalitions” in 2010. Currently, I serve as PK’s Communication and Project Management Officer, responsible for such projects as “16 Days against Violence” and the International Women’s Global Seders. This activism is through a Jewish and gender lens.

Project Kesher teaches a commitment to social justice through Jewish values. I have taken this to heart and it has lead me to many places. I now sit on the Tula Jewish Council and am an active volunteer with a unique program, “Treffpunkt Dialogue”, for Holocaust survivors. The project is implemented with the financial support of the German Fund EVZ, and the Russian branch of the British fund CAF, which oversee this program. I was invited to make a presentation at the International Conference about “Treffpunkt Dialogue”.

The Conference focused on issues and problems of people who survived the Holocaust, and featured discussion about support for such people at the state level, with the help of the non-profit sector and foundations. Successful working practices for this category of citizens in the different countries and the optimization of existing resources and capabilities were presented. All speeches repeatedly underlined the need to consolidate and optimize existing resources, which are getting scarcer, to provide good living standards for victims of Nazism and the Holocaust.

Although I was not at the conference representing Project Kesher, I never leave my PK identity behind. While there, I was able to educate the participants on PK’s work in building leadership among women and advocating for peace and stability in the region. As a proud young Jewish leader in Russia, I never forget the past as I work to build a new future.

Elena Feldman will be in New York City for Project Kesher’s Second Annual Global Day Trip on October 25, 2015. For more information about this program, please contact Rachel Lobovsky at rachel@projectkesher.org or 914-301-9450.

Barbara Glickstein Elected Chair of the Board of Project Kesher!

Barbara Glickstein photo for website

New York, July 31, 2015

Barbara Glickstein, a public health nurse, health policy expert and broadcast journalist, has been elected chair of the board of Project Kesher, the largest grassroots, feminist Jewish women’s organization in the Russian-speaking world. She assumed her responsibilities on July 1, 2015.

Glickstein is co-founder and co-director of the Center for Health Media and Policy at Hunter College CUNY. She is also the Research and Outreach Strategist for Carolyn Jones Productions producers of the documentary, “The American Nurse”. She is currently working with Jones on her new mutlimedia project, Dying in America. She co-founded and directed the Continuum Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center. For thirty years, Glickstein has produced and hosted Healthstyles, an award-winning weekly program on public radio in NYC.

Glickstein joined the board of Project Kesher in 2007, and her activism focused in the areas of women’s health, gender and economic equality, building safe and inclusive communites and human trafficking. She succeeded in bringing her international work on human trafficking to the United States. She speaks nationally on how nurses can prevent, identify and stop human trafficking.

“I’m constantly inspired and influenced by Project Kesher women globally who are resilient agents of change — changing their lives and the world around them, advancing equality, economic sustainability, religious and ethnic freedom and a more stable, peaceful and just world,” Glickstein says. “I will work in concert with the global network of Project Kesher women to strengthen our leadership, strategies and collective power. It’s time to increase our voice and visibility.”

“Barbara’s tenure as Project Kesher board chair coincides with a volatile time in the region and her strong commitment to civil society building and feminism, as well as her passion for Judaism, make her an ideal leader at this moment in our history,” says Project Kesher Executive Director, Karyn Gershon.

Glickstein lives in New York City with her husband Ethan Ellenberg, a literary agent.  They have two adult children, Manya and Ezra.

Project Kesher – USA (PK) is the largest funder of Jewish women’s activism in Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine, as well as in the Russian-speaking community in Israel. Through PK’s support, women activists have organized 200 Jewish women’s groups and ninety interfaith coalitions reaching tens of thousands throughout the region. The PK model transforms individuals, families and communities through a supportive global network of activists, innovative leadership training programs for women and girls, job training at ORT-KesherNet computer centers, and social justice programs addressing domestic violence, human trafficking, women’s health, anti-Semitism and other religious and ethnic intolerance.

For more information, contact Karen Bloom at karenbloom@projectkesher.org

The PK Connection: Practicing English and Empowering Women Across the Globe via Skype

Twenty six years ago, Project Kesher Founding Director Svetlana Yakimenko, living in a small city outside Moscow, traveled to her local post office to make telephone calls because she did not have a home phone. Today, Project Kesher activists from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia and Israel routinely meet via Skype to share ideas, successes and programming materials.   In the last year, a growing number of young women in the region have asked to be partnered with women in the United States via Skype to practice their English skills.   We are seeing the distance between Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union, Israel and in the United States shrinking thanks to today’s technology and social media. This will have a powerful impact on the future of Jewish people-hood and unifying Jewish communities across wide distances.

The English Learning Project was piloted by Marta Miller, who teaches English as a Second Language.  In preparation for Project Kesher’s Global Day Trip on November 23, 2014, PK’s Executive Director, Karyn Gershon, asked Marta to partner with Irina Skliankina to practice her English.  Because Project Kesher is a grassroots organization, it is so important to have many leaders have the opportunity to speak about their activism.  Irina came to the US and was an eloquent advocate for Project Kesher activists from Russia, speaking passionately about what it means to be a Russian Jew during this period of conflict with Ukraine.  Seeing the impact of this program, PK decided to expand and, in the past month, added eight new pairs of women, including Erica Frederick and Elena Feldman. 

Erica writes:

I just completed a Skype call with Elena Feldman from Tula, Russia who is Project Kesher’s Communications and Project Management Officer in the former Soviet Union. This was our second Skype call for PK’s new English Language Program that uses volunteers in the US to spend an hour per week to talk with selected women in the FSU who want to improve their English skills.  The program will enable us to bring more women to the US who can help us showcase the vital work of Project Kesher during this time of war when we cannot sponsor trips to the region.

Elena and I already knew each other; we had just spent four days together in Jerusalem so our first Skype meeting was comfortable and warm.  Elena is anxious to improve her verbal English skills and is highly motivated to make her first visit to America.  She studied English for many years, but has not had the opportunity to speak English on a regular basis.  She was very open in asking me to give her feedback and correct her mistakes.  Actually, Elena is very, very good – far better than she knows.

We spent our first Skype call talking about our families.  Elena lives in Tula with her husband, Evgeniy, and two sons, Ilya (age 8) and Alexander (age 3).  Elena told me that her mother was originally from Belarus, had studied medicine, and received a special grant to work in Tula where she met and married her husband.  There are many generations of Jews in her family; they all actively identified as Jews, but the only holiday they ever celebrated was Pesach.  Elena recalls the Antisemitism of some of some of her classmates while she was growing up.  She became a volunteer in the women’s group in Tula in 1998, where she learned Jewish values and traditions, studied Jewish texts, and gained the skills to become a leader and an activist in her community. Elena’s grandparents and other family members made Aliyah and now live in Ashdot, and she was able to visit with them during her recent trip.  I told her that my family has had a long history in Israel; my great-grandparents moved to B’nai Brach from Poland after WWII and my cousins founded a kibbutz outside of Jerusalem.  I told her that my sister Sheila Lambert and I had visited Israel for the first time in 1963 to meet them.

Elena and I spent our second Skype call talking about Pesach and Project Kesher’s global Seders.

Elena said that 125 Seders had been held on March 22nd throughout the region and in Israel.  Elena organized the women’s Seder in Tula with thirty women coming together at the Jewish Community Center.  They used the Haggadah created by Project Kesher, and they reached out to women in three other cities, Ylianovsk, Minsk, and Donetsk, by calling them during the Seder.  They talked about many things, women’s equality, women’s health, but most importantly, they talked about the theme of Passover—freedom for the Jewish people.  The women made personal pledges to do everything in their power to maintain peace in their families and society, to continue their Jewish studies, and to stay proactive during the hardest of times. They prayed for peace within their war-torn region, and rededicated themselves to their efforts to promote peace and work on behalf of the freedom and empowerment of all women.

Participants in all of the Seders read Ose Shalom and Tehilim and created their personal prayers. Elena shared with me the prayer for peace written by Emma London, a leading poet who is a member of the local women’s group in Nizhniy Novgorod:

Bestow, oh God, some quietude on us!
It’s us – it’s women – asking you to grant it!
We don’t agree to live in wars and fighting!!! –
‘cause often babies lie under our heart
Forgive us our sins and errant steps,
Protect us, God, from envy, rage and malice,
From birth to death we will be in your service
Begging forgiveness for the done and said!

Torah is our major source of strength
to join efforts and to make this world
become a place where only kindness dwells.
Blessed be, Oh God, Whose mercy is immense!

 Although each of us is just the ocean’s drop,
Together – we are an enormous Power!
We’ll never be enslaved again – not ever,
We sing this Prayer of Peace to you, our God!

In Community in Jerusalem

women at the kotel

In Community in Jerusalem
By Erica Frederick
February 5, 2015

I just returned from Jerusalem where I had the privilege of participating in a strategic planning retreat for Project Kesher, comprised of 25 leaders from Russia and Ukraine who oversee its work in leadership development, Jewish education and renewal, social activism, economic empowerment, computer literacy and employment, and advocacy for women and girls.

These women came from a part of the world currently ravaged by war and dissension. Many have had a frightening year with friends and family called up for military service, others forced into refugee camps, and high unemployment and economic decline. Yet they joyfully greeted one another, because although they work together every day, they communicate through skype and emails and have not seen one another in a number of years. They came together in Israel to share their vision, hopes, prayers and ideas for all PK activists who are living through such difficult times. They bravely put aside their political differences to plan for Project Kesher’s future because they know that it is the women of the region who can be peace-makers and advocates for a return to civil society. They were joined by 20 of their sisters who had made aliyah, and were active in Project Kesher Israel. They danced and sang, shared some tears and laughter, and of course shared a meal.

Each and every evening, women from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus walked together through the old city to the Western Wall. While there they prayed for peace and slipped messages into the wall from themselves and their friends back home.

Fortuitously, the meeting was held at the YMCA, located on King David Street in Jerusalem, and it was a wise choice. The YMCA has been serving the people of Jerusalem for 133 years, facilitating peaceful coexistence among its communities of Jews, Christians and Arabs. The board, staff and members of the Y reflect the diversity of the city and the mutual vision of “living together.” In fact, the Y was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 in recognition of its efforts to promote peace, understanding and dignity of humankind. Its current building, beautiful, majestic, yet welcoming was dedicated in 1933 by Lord Edwin Allenby at which he said: “Here is a place whose atmosphere is peace, where political and religious jealousies can be forgotten and international unity can be fostered and developed.”

It was a perfect venue for Project Kesher’s meetings where we talked about tolerance and learned about conflict resolution with Rabbi Daniel Roth of Pardes. It was the perfect site for us to hold Shabbat services and Havdalah led by PK women who have come so far in learning the language of the prayer-book, and a special candle-lighting service in which the women shared warm and moving thoughts about their time together.

Project Kesher and Jewish Life in Ukraine: What Now and Why Now

By Karyn Gershon, Executive Director, October 2014

As Project Kesher groups in Russia, Ukraine and Israel, along with their counterparts in Moldova, Belarus and Georgia celebrate the Jewish New Year, we remain proud of the strength and resiliency of the global Project Kesher network.  We are seeing a strong wave of Jewish programming and social justice initiatives meeting ongoing needs, current political realities and the challenges of the day.  In short, the women of Project Kesher worldwide will likely surpass last year’s total of 144,000 volunteer hours leading Torah study, creating Jewish communal programming, promoting economic empowerment, and advocating for social justice in women’s health, domestic violence, human trafficking, anti-Semitism and other forms of religious and ethnic intolerance.

Here in the United States, we have been repeatedly asked whether there is growing anti-Semitism in Ukraine and whether this is the time to advocate for aliyah.  We are finding this not to be the case. Here are a few bullet points summarizing my current knowledge about the situation and below that, the sources of my information.

  • From the US Ambassador to Ukraine to the Chief Rabbis to Project Kesher-Ukraine leaders there is unanimity that anti-Semitism is NOT a major concern at this time;
  • The biggest issue in the region is instability due to the violence;
  • The new government is very supportive of Jews and the upcoming election is being dominated by democratic parties, not historically anti-Semitic parties;
  • Anti-Semitism reported in the press is, for the most part, the acts of very marginal people in Ukraine hoping to exploit the instability.  The general perception is that it is in Russia’s best interest to highlight these limited acts to perpetuate the sense that Ukraine is out of control; and
  • Approximately 5,000 Jews made aliyah during the conflict primarily from eastern and southern Ukraine.  This was due largely to the violence which served as a catalyst for those at risk economically and those who had been contemplating the move.  Just a few women from the PK network left and they have been welcomed by PK-Israel.

Here are my sources :

From Vlada Bystrova Nedak, Krivoy Rog, Ukraine

I do not see any support showing the growth of anti-Semitism in Ukraine today.  In fact, each political party is vying to prove how it will protect Jews in Ukraine.  We do see some outflow of Jews to Israel, but this is, in my opinion, largely due to the desire to find a better economic situation.  For the most part, all of our attention is on how to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.  To the extent the mass media is covering anti-Semitism, it is in the press that we consider it to be yellow journalism (unsupported and sensationalist).  The Jewish life continues here in the region and I still feel free to represent that I am the director of a Jewish organization and a leader of 16 days to end domestic violence.  I am very visible at the local university and trade union committees of the local factory and have found no discrimination.  I look forward to speaking to you further when I am in the United States at the PK Global Day Trip on November 23rd in NYC.

From Lena Kalnitskaya, Makeevka, Ukraine

In the South-East of Ukraine where hostilities are taking place, I have not encountered anti-Semitism and have not heard any concerns from our Jewish community members. If there have been any instances of anti-Semitism, they were undoubtedly committed by the same marginal people who were anti-Semitic prior to the conflict.   Currently, people who were displaced by the conflict are returning home.  Of course, there are some people made aliyah, but this is not a mass phenomenon. Today people are less focused on ethnicity than ever before.  Divisions in Ukraine tend to be geographic.

From Tanya Voytaluk, Rovno, Ukraine

Everyone in Ukraine is seeing that the new President is actively supporting the Jewish community and other minority groups. You probably saw in the news how Poroshenko (the president) was laying flowers at Babiy Yar (the mass grave where Jews were killed) and on Facebook I saw many, many very positive comments about his actions. Half of the new leadership, including Poroshenko’s inner circle are Jewish. On September 30, 2014, at the Ukrainian-wide Jewish Congress (led by Rabinovich) it became obvious that Jews are having and will have a continuous support from our President.  Some Jews are making aliyah, but it is due to war and the economic crisis (lack of jobs, high prices) rather than anti-Semitism. I have not seen any increase in anti-Semitism or any instances of Jews being oppressed on the grounds of our faith.

From Rabbi Kaminezki, Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine (from the 10/1 NCSEJ phone call)

There hasn’t been a rise in anti-Semitism. Given the very pro-Ukrainian position of the Jewish community, the ultra-nationalists, who are very anti-Russian, are not targeting Jews. More anti-Semitic sentiments are coming from the pro-Russian separatists, who at one point had occupied the Dnipropetrovsk synagogue. The Babi Yar memorial in Kyiv was desecrated recently. Russia is very interested in portraying the new Kyiv government as fascist and anti-Semitic, and they operate very professionally to reach this goal.

From Mark Levin, NCSEJ, Washington, DC (from the 10/1 NCSEJ phone call)

We have raised the issue of the Babi Yar memorial desecration and another incident that took place outside of Podol synagogue in Kyiv with Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. He pledged a quick and thorough investigation. We heard from the Kyiv Jewish community that the security services have opened an investigation into both cases, and that the community is working closely with the Ukrainian authorities.

From the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt (from an NCSEJ phone call)

The ambassador reported that the leading parties in the upcoming election are democratic and not the historically anti-Semitic organizations.  He is not seeing anti-Semitism as a source of significant concern.  He is focused on civil society building to ensure that Ukraine returns to stability.

In sum, Project Kesher-Ukraine needs your investment and support at this time to ensure the strength and continuity of Jewish life and the building of civil society for all.

Project Kesher article published in eJewish Philanthropy


, , , , , ,

This article was originally published in eJewish Philanthropy on May 23, 2014 and is being reposted here.

“In Ukraine, the Message is “To Think Positively” by Karyn Grossman Gershon.

“I have always said prayers of peace for Israel.
It is strange to be saying Jewish prayers of peace for Ukraine.”
“Yesterday there were shots in Donetsk (it’s next to me).”
“There were roadblocks along all our way home from my daughter’s.
They stopped cars, checking the trunks.”
“In Slovyansk people don’t leave their apartments without urgent need.
All the stores are closed.”
“Yesterday, a military campaign started here … ”
“For days already the Donetsk region is in a state of panic. Social networks spread information that all tap water has been poisoned, and soon there will be no water at all. All bottled water was immediately bought up in the stores and all empty containers in the apartments have been filled with water. People do not trust anyone.”
“Here we have trenches and tanks, and we are worried about our future.
Who can help us?”
“I have a go-pack ready at home.
This is a very uncertain situation, and people have no confidence in the future.”

For 25 years, throughout Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia and Kazakhstan, and most recently in Israel, Project Kesher has been transforming women’s lives, restoring their Jewish identity and providing training in leadership and social activism.  United by shared values, this network of thousands of Jewish women has been steadily building Jewish community and civil society. Engaging women of other ethnicities and religions in the region, they’ve build coalitions to address common issues around women’s health and safety.

Now that network is being tested as the conflict in Ukraine raises fears and sows mistrust.

Project Kesher in the U.S. hears from its activists in the region every day. At the beginning of the conflict even Jews who have been bound by common goals and friendships across borders retreated to various political corners, reflecting what they heard on TV and expressing their local anxieties. They reported things like:

“We [women in Russia and Ukraine] continue to communicate
but the moment we start discussing politics conflicts arise.”
[Within Ukraine itself] “I don’t want to communicate with those who support a split
in the country.”
“We stand for the unity of Ukraine unlike those who want to destroy the country.”
“The propaganda war often makes people feel scared,
it’s hard to see between truth and lie.”
“There are many provocateurs in social networks.
Many people post negative information, thus escalating the tension.”
“Some Jewish organizations became alienated due to differing attitudes.”

Initially, Jewish women in the Project Kesher network, on different sides of the border, expressed anger at each other about the conflict. Women in Ukraine, many who had been active in the Euromaidan protests, were angry that Russian women did not defend their right to affiliate with Europe. Some women in Russia believed that parts of Ukraine were historically Russian and, if the population wanted to rejoin Russia, they should be allowed to do so. Others, pounded by government propaganda 24/7, began to believe that widespread anti-Semitism was a legitimate threat.

Then something interesting began happening, community by community. Unlike in cold war days, of course, people have unfettered access to communication. These Jewish women are in relationship with each other, on both sides of the conflict, and with Project Kesher staff and supporters in the U.S. They have had years to build personal relationships across borders and across ethnicities. Now, by email, social networks, Skype, and phone, they took a step back and, bypassing the slanted media reports, began to share information about what each was hearing from her government and media and how it differed from what they were seeing in their own communities. Internal tensions among them subsided as they realized that they needed to take concrete actions to help re-stabilize the region… and that they were trained to do just that.

So even as the situation escalated – and although their political stances still differed – the women of Project Kesher continued to meet up, beginning with the global seders they had already been planning. For example, the 12 Project Kesher women’s groups in Crimea went on working uninterrupted and without judgment as to whether their region should be Russian, Ukrainian or independent. Throughout Ukraine, PK leaders conducted workshops, and organized circles of diverse people seeking peaceful solutions. Under growing economic pressures, facing lower salaries and inflated prices of food, goods, and medicines – and now subjected to restriction of movement due to the violence – they committed to holding a space for dialogue and community-building.

[From Russia:] “ It’s time to stop. I trust my friends and relatives living in Ukraine.”
“The political situation has changed relationships between many people,
many have absolutely opposite points of view,
yet we continue to communicate, look for compromise,
or at least avoid discussing politics.”
“Friends from other regions are calling and writing,
offering help and shelter for our women.
All of us are united by one thing –
the desire that peace will come as soon as possible.”

Jewish women in Belarus, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine who had been at the forefront of coalition-building in their region found, ironically, that their skills were now being called upon to facilitate dialogue between people in Russia and Ukraine and between Ukrainians of differing political affiliations.

This work is ongoing today. While Jewish women share the frustration and fears of others in their region, many are trying to regain some control over their quality of life through the framework of their Jewish identity and the social activism skills they have developed in the past decade.

Jewish women in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine realize that they do not have the ability to force the governments to be less aggressive but they do have the power to create public sentiment for restraint, diplomacy and ultimately, peace.

On their websites, Project Kesher activists have been posting ideas to promote a peaceful resolution.

In their roles as community leaders, teachers, social workers, etc., Project Kesher women continue to convene and to facilitate community dialogues on tolerance. They have been reaching out to youth groups, college students and community leaders to organize community roundtables to discuss the situation.

And now, increasingly more people across faiths, ethnicities, and cultures are joining their neighbors who were already engaged in these circles of dialogue. One thing they all express – from Kiev, Moscow, Crimea, eastern Ukraine – is that, whatever the political leaders are saying, they do not want to go to war.

We believe that this message is missing from the media.

As the conflict escalates, Jewish women in the Project Kesher network have begun to ask for support to learn mediation and constructive conflict skills to facilitate dialogue across borders. They are searching for opportunities to bring together leaders at neutral sites to strategize about how Jewish women can help stabilize Ukraine and Russia and continue to make strides in advocating for women and girls.

Galya, from Eastern Ukraine, writes, “Our only chance to stay sane under such circumstances is to do what actually Project Kesher has been doing for years – to network, to share information, to support those who are emotionally exhausted, to believe in ourselves, to think positively, and to act.”

– See more at: http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/in-ukraine-the-message-is-to-think-positively/#sthash.B8Vc1YUf.dpuf