Shmuel Kamenetsky: «We are fortunate to have such people here»
People say that his blessing brings miraculous fortune, and that he can heal fatal illnesses. There are many stories about how Jewish businessmen donated a few hundred dollars to this miracle-worker when they were just starting out, and soon this money “returned” to them in hundreds of thousands. “And the more you donate, the more swiftly your fortune increases,” people persuade their families and friends after they have seen miracles of this nature with their own eyes.
Surprisingly enough, these legends are not spread by fanatical Hasidim, but quite secular people: Israeli businessmen, former delegates of the Jewish Agency and Nativ, and even some diplomats. And these people are Russian-speaking Israelis. They are also united by the fact that they have all been to Dnepropetrovsk, have visited the synagogue there or been among the happy people invited to observe Shabbat at the home of the spiritual leader of the Jewish community, the rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky. When they return to Israel, many of them, while maintaining their secular lifestyle, start to visit the “House of CHABAD”, donate large sums, and write letters to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Even skeptics admit that Kaminetsky is an outstanding personality. At the end of the Soviet era, he was sent to Dnepropetrovsk by the last Lubavitcher Rebbe. Incidentally, some admirers believe that this “shaliyakh”, or emissary, inherited part of his mentor’s divine gift. Be that as it may, he was able to learn Russian quickly, establish good connections with the authorities, including major politicians of a national scale, and gather the most important Jewish oligarchs of Ukraine around him. Although eyewitnesses insist that these businessmen only became truly successful after they met Kaminetsky…. He managed to create the most organized and prosperous community in the post-Soviet region in Dnepropetrovsk. On his initiative, the wealthiest people in Ukraine, and not just Jews, have in recent years donated millions of dollars both for the needs of the community and to various projects in Israel. Today, Shmuel Kaminetsky is justly considered to be the most influential religious figure of Judaism on the territory of the former Soviet Union.
Billionaires: the Jewish roots of success
The rabbi emphasized the fact the Bogolyubov and Kolomoisky are active and devoted members of the community: “They are very strong people, and for them Jewishness comes first. We are fortunate to have such people here. You can’t find their like in Kharkov or Odessa. Although Kharkov has Feldman, and that’s a good thing,” the rabbi said.
He believes that without taking into account spiritual factors, it is impossible to understand the reasons for such a generous flow of donations from the richest people in Ukraine: “This is their awakening Jewish soul, “idishe nehsome”. Three major businessmen not only contribute money, but they personally become closer to Judaism – they come to pray, they wear tefillin, some of them have been circumcised; they don’t eat pork, and they observe the kashrut, one partially, and one fully. They study the Torah every day and fast on Yom Kippur.
The roots of these oligarchs, according to Kaminetsky, have great importance in their lives. Igor Kolomoisky’s family comes from Berdichev in the Zhitomir Province, which in the 18th-19th centuries was one of the main centers of Hasidism. The mother of one of the wealthiest people in Ukraine today bore the surname of the famous Tzadik wise men Barkhu-Barkukhsmo (“Blessed is He and Blessed is His Name”). And Gennady Bogolyubov’s parents went to the synagogue in Dnepropetrovsk, despite the persecution of the Soviet authorities and dismissal from work. “The wealth of these people was perhaps received as a reward for the tears and prayers of their righteous ancestors,” says Kaminetsky.
Rabbi Shmuel feels it is important to let each magnate know that he does not just need their money, “but the people themselves, with their souls”. Furthermore, it is important for businessmen to know that “their dollars will reach the right place, that we protect and value these dollars.” This is why the community is managed very effectively from the economic standpoint, with a transparent external audit every half-year.
Kaminetsky believes that regular donations will help businessmen during the hard times of crisis: “I have some verified statistics – those who gave “tzedakah” to the Jewish community did not go bankrupt and overcome all difficulties.” The rabbi believes that there is great religious meaning in the “tzedakah”: “The creator protects the person who gives, and wants the person to return, who gives from himself”. It is not surprising that here even non-Jews contribute to the needs of the community, for example one entrepreneur donated $150 000 this year. When asked whether he gives famous oligarchs a special blessing, Kaminetsky replied that he does not make a business out of “berakhot”, and only passes on blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The mystic phenomenon of Dnepropetrovsk
Kaminetsky believes that the success of Dnepropetrovsk and the local Jewish community are linked with the special blessing of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe. His father was the rabbi and Cabbalist Levi-Itshak Shneerson, who lived in this city and was arrested by the Bolsheviks there. “The Rebbe blessed this city. There is something personal from the Rebbe here. He spoke of the self-sacrifice of his parents, when he sent me here,” says Rabbi Shmuel.
From 1990 to 1994, “while Rebbe was with us in physical life,” he personally instructed Kaminetsky and delved into all the details of creating the local Jewish community. Today, the Chabadniks of Dnepropetrovsk proudly call their city “the Jewish capital of Ukraine”.
Rabbi Shmuel believes that a correct scheme for building a community is the condition of success. Together with Kolomoisky and Bogolyubov, the following model was developing: a board of trustees as the community parliament, the board of directors as the government, working in seven fields (education, religion, culture, social assistance etc.). Initially they decided that people who paid a $500 monthly fee would be on the board of trustees. But the businessmen immediately began giving much more. The budget, which runs into millions of dollars, is approved at the beginning of the year.
The community was able to build a “state within a state” in Dnepropetrovsk, establishing full Jewish life in all spheres of existence. There is a Jewish secondary school in the city, named after Rabbi Levi-Itshak, a Jewish kindergarten, “Beit-Tsindlikht”, and an old people's home, “Beit-Barukh”.
In the hall of the “Golden Rose” synagogue, a “tzedakah machine” is installed, which allows people to donate funds to charity from their credit cards. The local community has donated $12 million to building three halls in tunnels located around the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Large sums are transferred from Dnepropetrovsk to the “Yad Vashem” memorial, in particular for the study of the catastrophe of Soviet Jewry. All the members of CHABAD in the world, when they celebrate Bar Mitzvahs, weddings or the birth of children, receive a respectable present from the city on the Dnieper. Kaminetsky stressed that the biggest sponsors of the community don't want publicity and PR, and so they make these donations without any fuss in the press. According to the rabbi, the Dnepropetrovsk community not only finances other Jewish centers in Ukraine, but also holds one of the first places in the CIS by volume of donations to Israel.
Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky has been the delegate of the Lubavticher Rebbe in Dnepropetrovsk since 1990. He was elected the head rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk and the province, and the largest Jewish community center in the world, “Menora”, was built in the city during his time as rabbi. He is the founder of the “Shiurei Torah Lyubavich” charitable foundation. He is considered to be one of the most influential religious figures in the post-Soviet region.
His parents were repatriated from the USSR in 1946. Before his Jewish coming of age (bar mitzvah), he studied at a cheder in Kfar Chabad until 1978. From 1978 to 1981, he studied at a yeshiva in the city of Lod. In 1981 he went to the U.S. to study with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and graduated from the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, New Jersey. He continued his education and taught at a yeshiva for delegates of the Rebbe in New Haven. Connecticut. In 1988 he received semikah (the title of rabbi) in the yeshiva of Eastern Parkway 770.
In 1989, he married Hana Lipsker. Rabbi Shmuel and Hana Kaminetsky have six daughters and three sons.
Purim on the Rocks
Meet hundreds of young Jews from across Europe and beyond as we party for Purim together in the heart of Central Europe!
The Jews have only one mission
Historian Vitaly Nakhmanovich discusses how Ukrainian and Jewish historical memory can be reconciled
Shiurey Torah Lubavich youth center opens in Kiev
The STL KIEV Jewish youth education center now works on Zhilyanskaya Street