«Jewish Observer»
November 2001
5762 Kislev

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Not long ago the Kiev "Khesed Avot" charity fund celebrated its 5th anniversary. Despite vivid achievements the opinion on the activities of the khesed network differs greatly. The arguments for critics are also different: "Joint's" father-like approach to its offspring, no coordination with Jewish communities in some cities, disproportional distribution of funds among different regions, etc. All this is said in the research called "Social protection in the Jewish community of Ukraine". The research was done by Yosif Zisels, chairman of the Vaad of Ukraine, executive vice-president of the JCU. The results of the research were published in the materials of the conference "10 years of Jewish national revival in post Soviet countries" held by the Institute of Jewish studies in Kiev, 2001.

We asked Natan Gemberg, director of Kiev Khesed, to clarity the situation.

- Natan Ilyich, would you shortly characterize what Khesed has done for these years.

- When we began, there were only 8000 clients in our database. Today they are about 17000. Three years ago Khesed began working in 74 towns and villages of Kiev oblast. All programs were extended, new projects were set up, say, "Hearing and prosthetic appliances", "Laundry", "Mazl tov", 10 hobby clubs and several canteens were opened, acquaintance service was organized. The number of volunteers increased from 25 to 750.

- First of all let us speak about justice. Is it true that $220 are spent annually for one Kiev client whereas the amount earmarked, say, for an old Ternopol Jew is several times less?

- I should say that at present this is not true at all. More of that, I would like to say that the expenditure in Kiev for one needy Jew is lower than in small towns. There is a minimal budget for each our client in Kiev. I don't understand why this question is up.

The thing is that the grant from "Claims conference", which is 80% of our budget, was initially thought to be distributed like this: 55% of the budget for Kiev, 45% for periphery. At that time the periphery included only four oblasts, except Kiev region. Today Khesed covers 14 oblasts and, of course, the proportions are different. Now Kiev receives 40% of the budget. And this is fair because 10 kheseds and 5 affiliates cover 19 thousand clients in the central (except for Kiev) and western regions. There are also 17 thousand needy people in Kiev itself. So, the fact is that the expenditure per one client in different locations approximately the same. In the little village of Zgurovka there lives the only one Jewish woman and she receives almost all what Kiev citizens do. Today, there is a direct dependence between allocated funds and the number of clients. Moreover, Swiss money, which started coming to Ukraine, was strictly distributed in each khesed between the clients who survived the Holocaust. So you see now that Kiev Khesed has no special privileges. Moreover, we are always in the public eye. There are days when we receive three foreign delegations.

Part of our clients is old relatives of our Jewish leaders. Naturally young relatives should be in the "proper form". For example, one of our programs was supposed to distribute footwear and clothes to the needy. Of course, we wanted the things to be decent, not worn-outs. When the distribution was over the young relatives of our clients came and asked us to sell them shoes of the same kind which we had distributed among old people, including their old relatives. This is the recognition of our high level.

- In your personal opinion, what are the key problems of Khesed today?

- We regularly filling in the tax declaration on each client. Unfortunately, we can't convince the authorities that our assistance is neither an income, nor a profit. The old man won't become rich, if he has meals 6 times a week or gets free glasses.

According to our laws, all this help is considered to be an income, except for some special medical services. If the income exceeds 311 Hryvnas a month, the man should pay 20% of the exceeded amount.

The second problem is the role of the Trustee Council, which herein I agree with our critics, is in the position of "a general for the wedding ceremony". It is high time for the Council to exert efforts for additional funding of certain programs or regions.

The third problem, much spoken about, is the steering role of "Joint". Who pays money, orders the music.

Much depends on the personality of the local Joint leader, on coordinators with whom he works.

Before blaming "Joint" for monopolizing the Jewish life, let's see how many Jew-businessmen participate in different populist projects instead of supporting their community and turning to their roots.

One should also speak about the bureaucratization of the system, as well as on a relatively small number of volunteers. If it is well known that in the Western countries the whole system of charity organizations relies on volunteers. We have a little bit more than 600 employees and about 750 volunteers. No doubt, the volunteers do a lot of work, Khesed won't be able to exist without them. However, there are functions, the execution of which is the responsibility of Hesed's staff workers. If we create a professional structure, we should employ professionals.

We can't afford having a non-professional accountant, non-professionals in information service. Even a librarian should be a professional, let alone psychologist and social workers. We hope that the graduate of the JCU's social department will join us soon. This department has been recently opened in the JCU (International Solomon University).

- Some people claim that your administration expenditure is very high.

- There is a law of Ukraine by which the production expenditure should be 80%, administration expenditure - no more than 20%. So, if in each program we fix wages and salaries for personnel, transport and other like, which is not directly production, the administration expenditure will be 35%. In our practical work, we follow the principle set by the Trustee Council, according to which the production expenditure is the money our client would pay if he had money. For example, if covered by the "Meals on wheels" program, our client would have to pay for the meal itself, including cooking, package, delivery to the flat - all this is the production expenditure. Of course, we try to make our production expenditure less - by rationalizing the work of cookers, by using fewer cars.

By the way, the salary and taxes of a social worker is also direct production expenditure. It is a worldwide practice. If a client had hired a social worker, he would have paid him for his services. In Western countries even the rent of premises is considered to be non-administration expenses.

- How do financial problems impact your clients? For example, people say that due to the reduction of funding by "Claims Conference"" the cost of a food parcel has fallen by 20%.

- The cost of a food parcel was reduced long ago and because of another reason. It was reduced owing to the wholesale purchases of food products and formation of food parcels inside Khesed, not by subcontractors. The quality and quantity of products didn't change, except for parcel's price. Moreover, the composition of food parcels was brought in line in all kheseds of Ukraine. The difference is only in the wholesale price.

- What are the relations between kheseds, which are in fact "Joint's" units, with Jewish communities?

They were set up with the help of "Joint" and "Joint's" grants.

In Kiev, for example, Khesed is a neutral organization. It performs the function of the city's Jewish community in everything that concerns social safety. The best proof of it is that Khesed's premises have been chosen as a venue for a conference of leaders from not very friendly organizations. As to kheseds in small towns, there are, for sure, conflicts between them and local communities. In many towns Khesed, as a matter of fact, is the center of Jewish life. This can be observed in Chernigov, Vinnitsa, Cherkassy, Zhytomir and Lugansk.

To be fair, today's "Joint" should be acknowledged as the general sponsor of community structures in Ukraine. It concerns funding not only kheseds but the community structures as well. Even money, coming from small Jewish federations from the USA and different funds, go to them through "Joint". However, one can't cover everything. The future of the community is self-funding.

Interviewed by Mikhail Gold

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© 2001 Jewish Confederation of Ukraine - www.jewukr.org