Ukrainian Teen Programs: Poltava

Poltava is a beautiful city in Eastern Ukraine with a population of 350,000. There was a time when the Jewish population of Poltava was 40 percent of the city. Walking through Poltava, you feel that you are in a Jewish city. Many buildings look and feel like they are Jewish, and if you stare at it long enough, you will find hidden Stars of David or start recognizing them as synagogues.

Today, there are about 1500 Jews in the local Hesed’s (Jewish community center) database, and they believe there are at least 3000 Jews in the city, if not more.

Every week at the Hesed, they have Shabbat programming that attract a couple dozen young adults and teenagers. This week I got to know them more personally by spending the weekend in Poltava. We sang and danced during Kabalat Shabbat, had Shabbat dinner, and an Oneg Shabbat for the young adults afterwards.

I talked to a few of the teenagers, after Kabbalat Shabbat about activities that they like doing. One girl, named Anna, said that she loves playing basketball. A few of the other teenagers said that they too enjoy playing basketball. This is a novelty, at least for me. I find it hard to put together a pickup game of basketball, but in Poltava it was quite easy to organize. We agreed that on Sunday after Sunday School we would go play basketball. Another girl, named Ella, was by far the best on the court sinking nearly all her shots.

There are 18 Jewish teenagers in the database at the Hesed. Every week they have programs on Sundays that attract minimally 12 of the teenagers to the program. This week they did skits about the weekly Torah portion and had a full discussion amongst them on the importance of family.

These teenagers love the Jewish community. They spend their entire weekends at the community center, their summers’ at Jewish family summer camps, and the infrequent family shabbaton.

This year, we are trying to connect Jewish teenagers, like those in Poltava, in Ukraine to each other through seminars and retreats and to BBYO international. Every week, I will be showcasing a different community and their teen club. Help us strengthen the Jewish world by connecting Jewish teens to one another. Learn more by clicking on the following link.

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