The Jewish community centre (JCC) in Krivoy Rog, Beit Graham, opened in 2009 and has become the centre of the city’s Jewish life.
Here we look at the huge impact that this building has had on the whole of Jewish life in the city.
There are around 15,000 Jewish people living in Krivoy Rog and there had been no focal point for the city’s Jewish community prior to the opening of the JCC. Although Krivoy Rog was once a significant centre of Jewish life, the Jewish population lost almost all ties to their heritage during the Soviet period.
However, since the early 1990s, World Jewish Relief has helped provide welfare services to impoverished elderly Jews and supported projects allowing Jews renew their link to community life and build a strong communal structure.
Jewish life in Krivoy Rog
In 2005, World Jewish Relief adopted Krivoy Rog as a key area of focus, committing to fully support the Jewish community there. The JCC building, which was a dilapidated site that was unfit for use, was purchased. Richard Graham, a long time supporter of World Jewish Relief, generously committed to provide one third of the costs needed to complete the project.
Four years later, following dedicated fundraising efforts - including events run by the Gemini and Birmingham committees - the new JCC opened, and now acts as a central point for the community. The JCC provides a wide range of social programmes for the community. Activities include a day centre for older people, regular classes for children and young people, sessions of Jewish culture, language classes and regular meetings of people with disabilities.
At the time of the opening, Richard Graham commented:
"In 1915, my grandfather and his brothers, who lived in Sheffield, adopted the English name of Graham; we are deeply honoured that this magnificent building should now bear our name. My five visits to Krivoy Rog have given me enormous respect for your enthusiasm and energy. I always thought that I have a Jewish head and yet it tool a visit to Ukraine to make me really feel my Jewish heart.
"This building is a gift to you from the Jews of England through World Jewish Relief. However, this Centre has only come to fruition because of the remarkable achievements of the Krivoy Rog Jewish community itself in creating a vibrant Jewish lift out of the ashes of the holocaust and the oppression of communism."
The JCC includes a dedicated Children's Wing that is named in memory of Tony Brooks, a staunch World Jewish Relief volunteer until his sad passing in 2006. Tony's wife, Bonnie Brooks, plus many members of her extended family, joined the 40-strong group from the UK to pay tribute to Tony and open the wing in his name. In honour of Tony's passion for World Jewish Relief, hundreds of people donated to the Tony Brook's Foundation, proceeds from which contributed to the Children's Centre.
At the opening, Nigel Layton, then World Jewish Relief Chairman, said:
"One of my first acts as chairman of World Jewish Relief was to come to this welcoming and wonderfully warm Jewish community to see what we could do to help you sustain and enhance Jewish life here. On the way home, my colleagues and I agreed to help you create a Jewish Community Centre as a home for use by your community.
"And, Ladies and Gentlemen, some six years later, we have delivered as we stand proudly in front of Beit Graham, our magnificent new Jewish Community Centre.
"I would like to thank the Graham family, in particular Richard and Louise, for their overwhelming generosity in support of this centre. Your commitment to this project has been unwavering and your tenacity has helped bring it to fruition."
Previous World Jewish Relief Chairman, Ashley Mitchell, also attended the JCC opening, to honour his late parents Rose and Leon Mitchell, whose legacy was crucial in making the Krivoy Rog project a reality. The late Doris and Joseph Pacey, through the Doris Pacey Charitable Foundation, were similarly generous in their support of the construction and the running costs of the centre.