Betsy Gidwitx Reports
Visit to Jewish Institutions in Moscow

November 24 to December 4, 1997

Rabbi Lazar said that major growth is underway in Chabad activities in Moscow, particularly in Marina Roscha, an area of Moscow that remains affordable and thus attracts young Jewish families. Under construction next to the synagogue is a large seven-storied Jewish community center. Using a detailed model, Rabbi Lazar enthusiastically pointed out major activity areas in the new facility: a synagogue/assembly hall seating up to 1000 people; a smaller auditorium seating up to 400; classrooms and office space; library; computer center; restaurant and kitchen for various functions, including a hot meals program for elderly; gymnasium and weight room; two mikvehs; and indoor parking. It is hoped that the large hall will be available for Rosh Hashanah in September 1998, but the rest of the building will be completed later in 1998/1999.

Once the JCC is completed and in use, Chabad will consider additional structures for another area of the same property. For example, Rabbi Lazar is thinking about a smaller building to be used as a family center. It is unlikely that any space on the site will be committed to formal adult Jewish education because few people are attracted to formal education programs.

Many of the Jews who participate in Marina Roscha activities do so in part because local people are managing these programs. Moscow Jews are eager to organize their own community life in Moscow. They are much less interested in emigrating now than they were previously. When local individuals realized that the Marina Roscha synagogue had sustained structural damage from ground settling, local Jews arranged for the necessary repairs.

25. Zinovy Kogan is both the representative of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (Reform movement) in Moscow and the Executive Director of KEROOR, the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations of Russia. Mr. Kogan was interviewed in the KEROOR office, which is located in the Choral Synagogue in Moscow.

Regarding the World Union for Progressive Judaism, Mr. Kogan said that it has organized small groups of Jews in 21 cities in the transition states. The appeal of Progressive Judaism is in its use of the Russian language in prayers and services and in its democratic nature, the latter referring to the inclusion of women as equal members of congregations and other governing bodies.

The World Union provides some funding and Russian-language siddurim. Mr. Kogan believes that WUPJ should prepare and distribute more Russian-language material on Reform Judaism as well as Russian-language textbooks for use in WUPJ educational settings. Five Progressive Sunday schools operate in Russia -- in Moscow, Rostov, Krasnodar, Samara, and Chelyabinsk. 21 At one time, more Progressive Sunday schools existed, but some have closed due to emigration of their members and/or lack of support. Mr. Kogan believes that Progressive educational ventures require "enticements", such as computer classes, to attract youngsters and their parents. WUPJ also operates one 12-day summer camp, and organizes quarterly seminars for activists.

Mr. Kogan said that individual Progressive congregations are weak and will require many years for growth and institution-building. Much of the weakness is due to the absence of rabbis who could attract participants by organizing and conducting life-cycle events such as bar and bat mitzvahs and weddings. Mr. Kogan is aware that five individuals from the transition states are in the rabbinic seminary at Leo Baeck Institute in London, but he is concerned about the ability of WUPJ and local Progressive Jewry to support these future rabbis and the programs that they would operate.

26. KEROOR (Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations of Russia or Конгресса Еврейских Религиозных Общин и Организаций России) was established in 1997 as an umbrella and resource organization for religious-based Jewish organizations in Russia. Its leadership includes: Rabbi Adolph Shayevich, Chief Rabbi of Russia; Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, here in his capacity as President of the Beit Din of Russia; Boris Shpiegel as President; and several prominent leaders of REK, including Vladimir Gouzinsky and Boris Hait.

Rabbi Eliyahu Essas, an Israeli, is the executive vice president, 22 and Zinovy Kogan is the executive director.

Many KEROOR services are designed to support small religious communities that do not have rabbis. KEROOR sponsors seminars for lay leaders, publishes an attractive wall calendar with detailed information about holidays, distributes tasteful and informative pocket calendars, issues information about the Holocaust, provides funding for holiday observances, and publishes a newsletter. Its assistance reaches dozens of Jewish groups across Russia.

KEROOR works closely with the Joint Distribution Committee in the latter's program of support to religious communities. Its relations with Chabad are less fruitful, in large part due to Chabad anger over KEROOR inclusion of and cooperation with Progressive communities.

International Organizations

27. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (known as JDC and Joint) provides support to Moscow Jews through various social services, cultural and religious activities, and education programs. According to Michael Steiner, the JDC director in Moscow, the major task of JDC in the Russian capital is building a Jewish communal infrastructure. Jews in Moscow possess the moti-vation and talent to do whatever work is required, but, at this time, they require partners in order to succeed. Mr. Steiner continued that Moscow Jews have their own agenda and JDC must respond to that agenda, rather than impose a JDC-inspired plan upon them.

Referring to needs in the welfare sphere, Mr. Steiner described circumstances for elderly people as "tragic". JDC cannot cope with the situation he said. Between 35,000 and 40,000 Jewish elderly in Moscow have been identified by JDC as needing assistance, but only about 10,000 of them actually receive aid. Such aid ranges from occasional food parcels to patronage services. 23 About 4,000 Jews in Moscow are homebound, but only about 1,000 receive necessary support. Needs of the vision- and hearing-impaired are addressed only minimally. It is unlikely that the situation will improve. Although emigration has decreased, younger people still leave Moscow, some of them abandoning parents and other elderly relatives.

Departing from its practice in other post-Soviet cities, JDC has not organized hasadim in Moscow.24 Instead, JDC works with and tries to strengthen existing social service organizations, such as Yad Ezra (with a caseload of approximately 1500 elderly clients), Chama (Rabbi Dovid Karpov), Bikur Cholim (based at the Choral Synagogue), and MEOD (described earlier). It supports two large soup kitchens, one in cooperation with Chama and REK, and several programs delivering meals-on-wheels to elderly Jews.

In response to a question, Mr. Steiner said that he was unaware of any Jewish community pharmacies in Moscow. However, he said that he would explore initiating such a program as there is an obvious need for them.

Mr. Steiner believes that between 50 and 100 Jewish children in Moscow have already been identified (by day schools, other institutions, and individuals) as potential residents of Jewish children's homes. He is aware of the plans of Rabbi Goldschmidt and Rabbi Karpov to develop such facilities. Once these institutions exist, they will attract disadvantaged Jewish children from other cities in Russia [as the Jewish children's homes in Ukraine have attracted youngsters from other cities in that state].

Acknowledging my awareness of JDC programs in the areas of religious programs, Jewish education, and Jewish culture, Mr. Steiner did not discuss these activities. However, JDC was instrumental in facilitating my meetings with Rashid Kaplanov of Sefer, Alexander Militarev of the Jewish University of Moscow, and the Hillel organization.

28. The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI or Sochnut) operates a variety of programs designed to encourage and facilitate emigration of Russian Jews to Israel. Alla Levy is Director General of the JAFI Unit for the FSU and Eastern Europe and, since mid-1997, Head of the JAFI Delegation in Moscow as well. Ms. Levy was born and raised in Moscow.

Perhaps the best-known programs of JAFI are Hebrew classes (ulpanim). The Moscow-area Hebrew program is directed by Natalia Lifshitz, a native of Vilnius. Ms. Lifshitz reported that 34 Hebrew classes, each with at least 10 students, were operating in seven districts of Moscow at the time of my visit. In all, 638 adults were enrolled. Ms. Lifshitz anticipated that almost all would emigrate to Israel in the near future; those who would not do so are a few individuals who study Hebrew because of a general interest in Judaism and/or Israeli culture and others whose departure will be delayed because they are caring for elderly parents who are not candidates for aliyah. The Hebrew classes, usually held in the evening or late afternoon and on Sunday, are taught by 30 local Hebrew teachers, who have been trained by Ms. Lifshitz. The curriculum includes background information about Jewish and Israeli holidays, in addition to the Hebrew language itself. Most classroom space is rented from public schools in which the principal is Jewish and friendly.

In addition to offering Hebrew instruction in the city of Moscow itself, JAFI operates 24 Hebrew classes in a large area around Moscow, known historically as the Golden Ring. This area stretches from Rybinsk in the north to Kursk in the south and from Smolensk in the west to Tambov in the east. Ms. Lifshitz visits teachers of these classes periodically and the teachers come into Moscow on a regular basis for JAFI pedagogical seminars.

A Sunday visit was made to a Moscow district cultural center in which JAFI rents space for multiple activities enrolling almost 300 Jews. In addition to several ulpan classes at various proficiency levels, JAFI operates a Sunday school in this building that enrolls children (ages four to 12) of adult ulpan students; the Sunday school program includes holiday celebrations, Israeli music and dance, arts and crafts, and other activities. In another room, 28 adolescents were participating in Limudia, a program designed to prepare them for examinations determining entrance into Naaleh or Sela. 25 Limudia participants meet for six hours every Sunday, devoting two hours to each of three subjects: (1) English; (2) mathematics 26; and (3) a course combining Hebrew, Jewish tradition, and Land of Israel studies. A fourth activity is a Family Club, a new venture attracting parents with school-age children. On the day of the visit, several weeks before Chanukah, families were engaged in several Chanukah-related projects, including making menorahs. It is hoped that adults will enter ulpan classes and eventually make aliyah with their families.

21. In response to a question, Mr. Kogan said that no WUPJ presence exists in St. Petersburg, Russia's second largest city, which is believed to have a Jewish population of about 90,000.
22.  As Ilya Essas, Rabbi Essas was among the most prominent refuseniks of the 1970s and early 1980s.
23. Patronage services refer to assistance provided by homecare workers who visit homebound individuals on a regular basis to perform such services as shopping, cooking, cleaning, arranging medical care, etc.
24 Hasadim (plural of Hebrew hesed) are multi-service welfare centers. In large cities, they usually include hot-meal programs for elderly, clinics, programs dispensing medical equipment, social activities, etc.
25 Naaleh is a high school program in Israel. Selah is a one-year program in Israel preparing high school graduates for study at Israeli universities.
26 The mathematics class is taught by Edward Dubov, a mathematician and also a past President of the Moscow Chess Federation. Mr. Dubov said that many Russian young people are very skilled in basic mathematics, but very weak in solving problems requiring logic and interpretation of text.

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