Bringing Mazel to Jewish Boy in Ukraine

June 1, 2011


At six years old, Daniel, who lives in Kharkov, Ukraine, is already speaking and reading in basic Hebrew (and English), in addition to his mother tongue. He knows the Jewish holidays, how to recite the blessing over the challah, and loves the tune to “Shabbat Shalom, hey!” That’s because Daniel has been coming to the Mazel Tov program at the JDC-supported Beith Dan Jewish Community Center—the hub of Jewish life in Ukraine’s second largest city—since he was two years old.

What makes Daniel’s situation so remarkable is that he is among the first generation of young Jews in over a half a century who are able to practice Judaism openly in this part of the world.

Daniel’s parents, Julian and Victoria, are very committed to their young son’s Jewish education, and are thrilled about his participation in Mazel TovJDC’s early childhood intervention program created to attract young unaffiliated Jewish families to their local Jewish community. “We highly value this exclusive opportunity for Daniel to learn Jewish culture, traditions, and customs,” they shared. While they learned about the program incidentally through a friend, today they take part in all Mazel Tov activities and many other adult—and family-focused JCC events.

In Ukraine and throughout the former Soviet Union, Mazel Tov goes beyond providing an enriching Jewish environment: It provides a haven for thousands of children, mostly from low-income families, and helps counter the impact of poverty on their development and academic success while simultaneously creating a welcoming entrée for these kids and their parents into local Jewish life.

In fact, today the program offers children’s education and recreation groups for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers; medical consultations; parent groups; and childcare essentials such as diapers and strollers to those who can’t afford them.  And with so many families of all socioeconomic backgrounds drawn to Mazel Tov for its creative Jewish programming, it has also become a unique environment in which at-risk families can be identified by the International Fellowship for Christians and Jews (IFCJ)-JDC Partnership for Children in the Former Soviet Union and can receive both the material and educational support they need to grow into active and engaged members of their community.

Whatever their personal or financial challenges may be and no matter in which of the dozens of Mazel Tov locations these families participate, they have all come to count on one thing: innovation. Last year, for example, a special program was launched incorporating Jewish materials into the standard Russian kindergarten curriculum approved by the Russian authorities. And in Belarus, the weekly “Shabbat Shalom” Jewish education program, as well as the annual family summer retreat, are participant favorites.

“Through Mazel Tov Daniel is getting a wonderful Jewish education and we have found a place in a warm, growing Jewish community,” said Victoria. Together the family continues to bring Jewish tradition into their home…and they hope, in the future, that after Hebrew school (soon!), Daniel will have the opportunity to study in Israel.

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