TiKVA: Helping Disadvantaged Jewish Children in Ukraine
Based in Odessa, Ukraine, TiKVA helps fill the gap by providing homeless, abandoned and abused Jewish children a warm, compassionate home filled with essential social services, medical and psychological services along with a quality Jewish education.
Yanna Begelman is the Director of Development at TiKVA Children’s Home, David Estrakh is the Senior Vice President at Express Trade Capital, and Yanina Fleysher is a TiKVA Board Member and the CEO of Yanina & Co – a fine jewelry company.
They recently spoke with me about how TiKVA helps alleviate the problems faced by Jewish children in areas of the former Soviet Union, explaining its mission and the impact it has had thus far.
How did the three of you become involved with TiKVA?
Yanina Fleysher: I’m a Soviet refugee from Moldova who immigrated to the US. I came to know about TiKVA around twenty years ago when Ed and Leah Frankel started to get involved. I think I was probably one of the first to be introduced to the board of directors at that time. I couldn’t have major involvement back then because my children were very young, and I was recently reintroduced to the organization. I went on a mission trip and I fell in love with all the children and I’m very much involved with TiKVA right now.
Yanna Begelman: I was introduced to TiKVA about five years ago and I was shocked to learn that there are still so many neglected Jewish children there. I guess it’s just one of those things where when you leave those brutal circumstances, you don’t really think about how many people are left behind. Often times when people think about poverty, Ukraine is not one of the first places to come up. And so it’s important to learn about what is happening in Ukraine. There are still a lot of Jewish children there that weren’t as lucky as my family was. We had the opportunity to make something of ourselves in the USA. These children are still dealing with anti-Semitism. The fact that there’s an organization like TiKVA that gives them hope and helps revitalize the Jewish community is just something that’s very special and eye opening to me, which is why I chose to get involved. I want to stand up for the forgotten Jewish children who can’t stand up for themselves.
David Estrakh: I got involved with TiKVA through Yanna who told me about it. Once Yanna told me about what it was, it was pretty immediate that I wanted to get involved. My stepfather and biological father are both from Odessa. I’m Jewish. TiKVA is helping Jews from Odessa so it seemed pretty straightforward. It’s a good, meaningful cause to give back to. They gave me some materials and I went on a mission trip, which really brought the words to life. You actually get to see the work in action. Once I met the children and saw what the organization was doing, it became pretty clear that I wanted to be a part of it.
What is TiKVA’s mission?
Yanna Begelman: TiKVA’s core mission is to care for the homeless, abandoned and abused Jewish children of Odessa and neighboring regions of the Former Soviet Union. We provide a warm compassionate home, essential social services and a quality secular and Jewish education, while revitalizing the Jewish community of Odessa. TiKVA also offers its graduates the opportunity for a brighter future through university and technical education in Odessa as well as immigration to Israel where TiVKA continues its support services to help them thrive.
Where does TiKVA operate?
Yanna Begelman: Odessa, Ukraine is where all of TiKVA’s facilities are, however TiKVA’s children come from 145 cites in the Former Soviet Union. As of 2018, Ukraine has the lowest personal income and the lowest GDP per capita in Europe. It also suffers from a very high poverty rate so because of all this, TiKVA’s primary focus remains in Ukraine. However we do have children from neighboring regions such as Belarus and Moldova as well.
What programs does TiKVA provide?
Yanna Begelman: TiKVA is a huge project. I feel a lot of times people think TiKVA is just one building and that all the homes and schools are housed in one location. It’s not. We actually have five homes. We have an infant home, a girl’s home, a boy’s home and separate dormitories for males and females. We have six schools, a Jewish University, a Synagogue and a community center. Some of our big programs are psychology and social services because a lot of our children come from abusive homes. We help them deal with these issues through psychologists and social workers who we work with everyday, as well as through music and art, which can be very healing.
In the schools, TiKVA offers the standard Ukrainian curriculum, which teaches subjects like Art, Math and Literature, but we expand on this and have Judaic studies, History classes and Hebrew classes. We also have a new sponsor, the specialized Helen Doron English program. Upon graduating, our children will have a thirty-five per cent better chance of meaningful employment because of their knowledge of English.
How many children have gone through these programs?
Yanna Begelman: Since 1997, over 2,250 children have gone through TiKVA’s homes and schools.
How can people get involved?
Yanina Fleysher: People can help in many ways – monetary donations from individuals and family foundations are extremely important. They can easily donate by going to our website directly at www.tikvaodessa.org.
What makes TiKVA special?
Yanna Begelman: TiKVA means HOPE. We took these abandoned and abused children into our care and gave them a good home, which provides them with love, care, social, psychological and medical services, and quality Jewish education so that these children have a chance at life that they otherwise would not have. It’s also a lot about giving back to the community. These children are raised to become contributing members of the community. It’s not just about educating these students, giving them what they need and then sending them off, it’s also a lot about giving back and taking care of their fellow community members, which in many cases are elderly Holocaust survivors. We really want them to represent true Jewish values and one of our biggest values is giving back and taking care of your fellow human beings.
David Estrakh: It was much bigger and more than just a children’s home. TiKVA now has some of the best schools in the Ukraine.
Yanna Begelman: TiKVA was actually rated as one of the best educational facilities in Ukraine for five years straight! TiKVA offers an award-winning education to our children.
Yanina Fleysher: The thought process of the children at TiKVA is just so different from the thought process at a typical orphanage. At a typical orphanage, they would never share something of theirs with other children. They feel like they’re fighting for their own survival. Where as in TiKVA, they’re all brothers and sisters and that’s what they refer to each other as. They encapsulate the spirit of one for all and all for one and share everything, even the candy you give them. It’s an amazing thing to see.
David Estrakh: You hear about TiKVA being a home but you see it and it’s a good quality home. It’s much more than just the statistics, you see them in person and you realize these kids have good food, good education, and a good home. The funds are truly well spent.
Do you have anything else to add?
Yanna Begelman: We give hope to these children and community that otherwise would not exist if not for TiKVA’s true heroes – its board and supporters. We invite everyone to learn more about TiKVA and get involved in our lifesaving and educational efforts.
TiKVA’s Annual NYC Gala is coming up on November 1st. Please join TiKVA as it honors Ambassador Danny Danon- Permanent Representative of Israel to the UN, Sylvester Stallone, and many other politicians, celebrities, philanthropists and TiKVA’s board and supporters to make a greater impact for this incredible organization that helps so many children in need. To learn more about the Gala, click here.