April 8, 2009

Road to Ukrainian Stardom Begins in JDC-Supported Community Center

For those who were able to attend to the First JDC Ambassadors Global Symposium in December, 2008, Oksana Galkevich, JDC Representative, Kharkov, Ukraine, shared this story during our lunch with JDC Country representatives.

Jews and non-Jews alike across Ukraine tuned in this year to watch “Ukrainian Stars Factory”—a version of American Idol—to cheer on its only Jewish contestant, Vladimir Goodkov.

Vladimir hails from Kharkov, the second largest city in Ukraine, which boasts a renewed and thriving Jewish community. Yet it was only three years ago that the young star, now 21, first came to the JDC-supported Beith Dan Jewish Community Center at his friend’s urging. Once there, the Center’s diverse programs enticed Vladimir to return time and again. Through the JCC’s Jewish Youth Association, funded by JDC, he participated in the “Vocal Studio Aviv” program and quickly became a favorite performer at Kharkov cultural festivals and Jewish holiday events.

While studying at the Kharkov State Polytechnic University and pursuing his musical ambitions, Vladimir also discovered his love of leadership and service to the Jewish community. He volunteered for several madrich (counselor) and leadership training programs and worked in the community as an advisor to its youth and a caring companion to its elderly. As a student in the JDC-facilitated School for Future Jewish Leaders—a training program begun by a graduate of the JDC-supported “Metsuda” Jewish Young Leadership Program—Vladimir gained both management skills and honed his natural leadership abilities through implementation of several of his own creative projects for the community.

When Vladimir went off to compete on the national televised reality show, he did not forget his roots or hometown. He brazenly declared himself a Jew, despite the growing threat of anti-Semitism that has increasingly been surfacing in Ukraine. And the young star went further: Vladimir demonstrated his pride in his Jewish identity by choosing to celebrate his Judaism publicly as one of his prizes during the the competition. Successful performances during the course of the competition won Vladimir the chance to have one wish granted—anything he wanted, including a concert in Cannes or his own CD release. But instead of the riches and glory, Vladimir asked to have his friends from the Jewish Youth Association brought to the studios so they could celebrate Shabbat dinner with him and his co-contestants. Aired on Ukrainian national television, the dinner featured Vladimir making the traditional blessing over the wine and challah and encouraging his friends to talk about an event in their lives that made them who they are today.

For Vladimir, the answer was simple. “The way I am now—enthusiastic, not afraid to say anything—is thanks to the people, the community that I became part of,” he said.

Young Vladimir went on to win the entire competition, distinguishing himself as a rising music star in Ukraine. And in the process, he sent a clear message that fame can be used not just for personal gain, but for good.

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