web analytics
April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
Spa 1.2 Combining Modern Living in Traditional Jerusalem

A unique and prestigious residential project in now being built in Mekor Haim Street in Jerusalem.



‘He Had A Vision And Was Always Right’: The Life Of A Ukrainian Jewish Leader

Shmist in his workshop making a memorial gravestone in 1992. (Photo courtesy of the Shmist family.)

Shmist in his workshop making a memorial gravestone in 1992. (Photo courtesy of the Shmist family.)

Share Button

Single-minded and dutifully on a mission, Leah Shmist is sitting at her mother’s kitchen table in Ashdod, sorting through a box of papers. Her father, Dr. Aharon Arkady Shmist, was among the first Jewish lay leaders in Ukraine who began to rebuild the Jewish community as soon as Mikhail Gorbachev initiated Perestroika and Glasnost in the mid 1980’s – allowing for greater freedom to religious groups. Much has been written about Shmist, documenting his work as a Jewish lay leader, and now his daughter Leah says she wants to complete the last project he was in the middle of before his untimely death.

Shmist grew up in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine’s third-largest city with a population of one million people. It was the mecca of the former Soviet Union’s space, nuclear, and arms industries and the entire city consisted of military factories. Under communist rule, Dnepropetrovsk was a “closed city,” where no one was given visas to travel abroad, and no tourists were allowed to visit. The Jewish community was largely isolated and by the 1980’s, other than a few individuals who traveled to Moscow and Kiev where there were active shuls and where tourists could visit and smuggle books, very few of Dnepropetrovsk’s 50,000 Jews openly identified as Jews.

Despite the newly relaxed restraints, government tolerance had yet to be tested when Shmist decided to organize a Purim party for all the Jews in the city. Since Shmist could not publicize the party in a newspaper, he came up with a plan to send his young daughter, and other youngsters who began showing up at the city’s only shul, to the factory buildings to sell tickets for a Purim carnival. With the ticket proceeds, he rented circus grounds and hired actors. Meanwhile, at home, his wife, Dr. Bella Shmist, worked around the clock baking hamantaschen. Leah says, “We baked close to 1,200 hamantaschen and even though each person at the Purim party received a package with just one hamantasch, there wasn’t enough because 2,000 Jewish people showed up.”

Emboldened by the success of the Purim party, which most doubted at first would draw any interest, Shmist wanted to maintain the sudden enthusiasm for Jewish celebration. Although Shmist kept his own goats to assure he had kosher milk, he knew the community needed a rabbi, a leader who could build the necessary framework to sustain religious life. He lobbied Chabad to send a shliach to Dnepropetrovsk, the same city where the Lubavitcher Rebbe grew up, whereupon Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky took on the mantle of leadership in 1990.

Rabbi Kaminetsky, the Chief Rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk who has successfully just completed building the largest Jewish Community Center in the world at the cost of $66 million, downplays his own role in the success of Jewish revival in Dnepropetrovsk. Instead, he says his work is an expansion on the groundwork laid by Shmist, whom he refers to endearingly as Arkady. “When I first arrived to Dnepropetrovsk, Arkady was waiting to greet me at the train station and he was unmistakable with his long beard and clothing,” Rabbi Kaminetsky says. “Not only did he look like a yid from Ukraine 300 years ago, but he didn’t belong to our generation. He was like a person from the times of the Baal Shem Tov, totally selfless, and only concerned about Jewish life and Jewish people.”

On the anniversary of the mass killing in Dnepropetrovsk in 1941, when 13,000 Jews were rounded up at the center of town and marched through the city to a mass grave where they were all shot, Shmist began leading an annual procession of Jews through the city, all holding candles and Israeli flags, as they marched to the murder site. “Most people in his generation didn’t even know it happened, and certainly didn’t know where,” Leah says. “Some thought this march was a bit radical, but over the years many non-Jews join and march in this annual procession, too.”

Dr. Arkady Aharon Shmist leading an annual march to the mass grave of the 12,000 Jews killed in Dnepropetrovsk in 1941. (Photo courtesy of the Shmist family.)

Dr. Arkady Aharon Shmist leading an annual march to the mass grave of the 12,000 Jews killed in Dnepropetrovsk in 1941. (Photo courtesy of the Shmist family.)

Share Button

About the Author:


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

No Responses to “‘He Had A Vision And Was Always Right’: The Life Of A Ukrainian Jewish Leader”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Unit 9900 is an intelligence unit that utilizes the unique capabilities of soldiers on the autism spectrum.
Autism in the IDF: Uniquely Talented Soldiers
Latest Sections Stories
Schonfeld-logo1

Regardless of age, parents play an important role in their children’s lives.

Marriage-Relationship-logo

We peel away one layer after the next, our eyes tear up and it becomes harder and harder to see as we get closer to our innermost insecurities and fears.

Gorsky-041814-Torah

Some Mountain Jews believe they are descendents of the Ten Lost Tribes and were exiled to Azerbaijan and Dagestan by Sancheriv.

Baim-041814-Piggy

Yom Tov is about spending time with your family. And while for some families the big once-in-a-lifetime experience is great, for others something low key is the way to go.

A fascinating glimpse into the rich complexity of medieval Jewish life and its contemporary relevance had intriguingly emerged.

Dear Dr. Yael:

My heart is breaking; my husband’s friend has gotten divorced. While this type of situation is always sad, here I do believe it could have been avoided.

The plan’s goal is to provide supportive housing to 200 individuals with disabilities by the year 2020.

Despite being one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the U.S. – the estimated Jewish population is 70-80,000 – Las Vegas has long been overlooked by much of the Torah world.

She was followed by the shadows of the Six Million, by the ever so subtle awareness of their vanished presence.

Pesach is so liberating (if you excuse the expression). It’s the only time I can eat anywhere in the house, guilt free! Matzah in bed!

Now all the pain, fear and struggle were over and they were home. Yuli was safe and free, a hero returned to his land and people.

While it would seem from his question that he is being chuzpadik and dismissive, I wonder if its possible, if just maybe, he is a struggling, confused neshama who actually wants to come back to the fold.

I agree with the letter writer that a shadchan should respectfully and graciously accept a negative response to a shidduch offer.

Alternative assessments are an extremely important part of understanding what students know beyond the scope of tests and quizzes.

More Articles from Devora Mandell
Alabama-Israel Task Force takes pride in their connection with the Jewish State.

The historical ties between Alabama and Israel dates back to 1943.

(R-L) At 7 World Trade Center, Paul Grossinger and David Bratslavsky, executive director of USI; present the Israel to NYC People's Choice Award to Saar Yoskovitz and Gal Shaul, the co-founders of Augury Systems. Panel judges Dan Ciporin, Canaan Ventures; Daniel J. Schultz, Gotham Ventures; and Jing Wang Herman, GetTaxi USA, look on.

It was a much anticipated evening as the winners of the U.S. Israel Business Council (USI) competition for “most promising Israeli high-tech entrepreneurs with the next big idea,” were to be announced. The enthusiasm was overwhelming as there were more than 160 applicants to the “Israel to NY” competition, and despite some very impressive ideas, only 15 Israeli tech-startups were chosen as finalists.

Single-minded and dutifully on a mission, Leah Shmist is sitting at her mother’s kitchen table in Ashdod, sorting through a box of papers. Her father, Dr. Aharon Arkady Shmist, was among the first Jewish lay leaders in Ukraine who began to rebuild the Jewish community as soon as Mikhail Gorbachev initiated Perestroika and Glasnost in the mid 1980’s – allowing for greater freedom to religious groups. Much has been written about Shmist, documenting his work as a Jewish lay leader, and now his daughter Leah says she wants to complete the last project he was in the middle of before his untimely death.

Rabbi Mendy Rosenberg, a Viznitzer chassid, stands outside his Williamsburg tire shop in rain, sun, sleet and snow, repairing flat tires and replacing old worn ones. Located in an area that was once an industrial area, the shop seems to be out of place on an island sandwiched between towering new building complexes, part of Williamsburg’s building boom to accommodate the ever growing Chassidic population.

    Latest Poll

    Now that Kerry's "Peace Talks" are apparently over, are you...?







    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/features/he-had-a-vision-and-was-always-right-the-life-of-a-ukrainian-jewish-leader/2013/04/18/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: