web analytics
April 18, 2014 / 18 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

Rabbi Kaminetsky describes how Shmist also led a march on Yom Ha’atzmaut while still under Soviet rule, “He was the only one who wasn’t afraid. He was such a big Zionist, and even though everyone was scared, he would constantly say, ‘Be proud to be Jewish!’ ” Such defiance was evident when his supervisor at work told him to cut his beard or he will be fired. His daughter Leah says he replied, “Marx, Friedrich, Lenin all had beards! Would you fire them?” Leah explains, “At that point, if she said anything, she would have gone to the great wasteland of Siberia so she relented on her threat.”

In addition to being a cardiologist, Shmist was a historian and skilled sculptor and began making stone monuments to erect at Jewish memorial sites. The communal grave where the majority of Jews were killed over two days in 1941 had merely a plaque that said, “Here were killed Soviet citizens.” Shmist demanded the plaque include the fact that these victims were Jewish. Later on, when the government initiated plans to build a stadium at the mass grave site, Shmist quit his job as a physician, and began an eight year long campaign to protect the land as hallow ground.

Consequently, Shmist developed the reputation of being the “protector of graves,” and Ukrainians would constantly come to his house to tell him Jews were killed in their yards, whereupon he would examine the site and record the witness testimony. Shmist believed his life’s mission was to memorialize Jewish life in Ukraine before WWII so that it would be known how much Jewish life had been lost. Kaminetsky says, “There are many mass graves in the whole Dnepropetrovsk region and Arkady would always say, ‘The least we can do is remember their names.’ ”

Dr. Baruch Natapov, a New York dentist whose parents regularly celebrated Jewish holidays with the Shmist family, says, “Dr. Shmist understood that if Judaism is going to thrive, you can’t just focus on history, but on young children who hold the future.” Natapov describes Shmist as a “child prodigy and genius” and tells how Shmist conceived a daring plan together with his wife to request that the Soviet authorities recognize and fund a Jewish day school. “Most told him not to hold his breath, so there was no surprise when the mayor, who was a communist, kicked him out of his office,” Natapov says.

However, despite the doubt and derision, Shmist didn’t give up and traveled to Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, where he sat in the waiting room of the ministry of education until the minister agreed to meet with him. “Shmist was very smart and really believed he was put on earth in order to preserve Yiddishkeit,” Natapov says, “so he wouldn’t give up.” Eventually, to the surprise of most of the Jews who lived in Ukraine, permission was finally granted and the government agreed to give Shmist the funds to rent space, pay teachers salaries, and buy books.

Once permission for the Jewish school was granted by the government, Rabbi Kaminetsky built the school (which currently has an enrollment of 600 children) and made Shmist’s dream, a reality. The school opened in 1991, and Dnepropetrovsk had now set a precedent for all Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union who were now requesting that their Jewish schools also be funded by the government just as in Dnepropetrovsk.

Being an ardent Zionist, Shmist moved his family to Ashdod in Israel, where he would regularly commute. Rabbi Kaminetsky says, “I never met anyone like him, a real tzaddik who was totally selfless, who had mesiras nefesh for the tzibur, who believed his sole mission in life was to rebuild the Jewish community in Ukraine.” Rabbi Kaminetsky tells how the physician was also a musician and composer and regularly gathered people together in concerts to sing the Jewish-inspired songs he composed. “A rabbi or a director can be replaced but not Arkady,” he says. “If you never met him, you just can’t understand who he was and what he was capable of. We never argued with him over any of his ideas because he had vision and was always right.”

In the humble apartment in Ashdod overlooking the sea, Leah says, “My father was especially taken by the story of the Prophet Jonah who was sent as a messenger to influence the entire community of Ninveh to do teshuvah.” She explains how her father wanted to establish a large memorial for Prophet Jonah on the small hill in Ashdod, where Jonah is buried.

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
Flyers ordered Jews to appear at a designated location in Ukraine, in Sept., 1941. The next day, the Jews lined up at the Babi Yar Ravine.
‘Jews Must Register’ Flyer in Ukraine an Echo of Babi Yar
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: