S: JFNA Campaign Chairs & Directors Mission - July 2011
1: Zdravstvuj (hello) from Moscow! Moscow, the capital of Russia, is the most populous city on the continent of Europe and the sixth largest city proper in the world. Its population is 11,514,300 (2010) - .76% of whom are Jewish (a nationality, not a religion, in Russia). Moscow is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent. The city is served by an extensive transit network, which includes four international airports, nine railroad terminals, and the Moscow Metro, second only to Tokyo in terms of ridership and recognised as one of the city's landmarks due to the rich and varied architecture of its 182 stations. Based on Forbes 2011, Moscow had 79 billionaires, displacing New York as the city with the greatest number of billionaires. | Outside the beautifuly modern, Sheremetyevo International Airport. Sheremetyevo was opened on August 11, 1959. | Fun Fact: In the 1997 film, Air Force One, the President of the United States, takes off from Sheremetyevo, but the plane is hijacked by Chechen terrorists shortly after take-off.
2: The Jewish Community in Russia and Our Dollars At Work in Moscow and Israel While Jewish life in the countries of the former Soviet Union has existed for centuries, religious persecution reached new depths under 72 years of Communism. Jews who tried to uphold their faith and their traditions were harassed and often arrested, tortured and condemned to hard labor or executed. According to a 2002 census, Jews make up about 0.16% of the total population of Russia. Most Russian Jews are secular and identify themselves as Jews via ethnicity rather than religion although interest about Jewish identity as well as practice of Jewish tradition amongst Russian Jews is growing. Lubavitch has been a catalyst in this sector, setting up synagogues and Jewish kindergartens in Russian cities with Jewish populations. Most Russian Jews have relatives in Israel. While on the CCD Mission we had a chance to view Moscow as it is today...and meet the wonderful people who are a part of the Jewish renewal movement there. Inside these pages are details about the state of the Jewish Community in Moscow today as well as personal stories of some of the exceptional people we met while in Moscow and in Israel. | 2011 TOTAL Populations in: United States: 311,960,000 (#3) Russia: 142,914,136 (#9) Israel: 7,751,000 (#97) | TOTAL Populations in: Pittsburgh, PA (2010): 305,704 Moscow (2011): 15,000,000 Jerusalem (2010): 776,000
3: Moscow Choral Synagogue In 1886 the chairman of the Jewish community Lazar Polyakov purchased grounds on Spasoglinischevsky Lane (Archipov Street), where a new building of the Choral Synagogue was erected in 1891 under the direction of Architect Simon Eibushitz. The synagogue was assumed to be ready for March of 1891, but the new Moscow General-Governor Prince Sergey Aleksandrovich had decreed the expulsion of the Jewish population from the capital. For two years, Moscow Jewry was reduced ten times and in 1893 it numbered only 7,000 people. The revolution of 1905 changed the situation. The tsar's manifesto of October 17, 1905 proclaimed freedom of religion and at the beginning of 1906, Moscow authorities permitted to open the Great Choral Synagogue on Spasoglinischevsky Lane for prayer. The community board had conducted necessary restoration works, in which the well-known Moscow Architect R. Klein was involved. He introduced to the decoration of the large prayer sanctuary the refinement of modern art. The solemn opening of Moscow Synagogue was held on June 1, 1906. Yakov Maze was the rabbi of the Moscow Choral Synagogue, a strong spiritual leader, who defended the interests of the Jewish community for 30 years. After the revolution of 1917 the Evsekzia demanded to converse the synagogue into a workers club. Rabbi Maze raised his voice to protect of the temple and succeeded in achieving the right to save the synagogue. In 1936 the Soviet regime closed the last Jewish school in Moscow. During 1937-38 the biggest part of educational and cultural Jewish organizations were closed too. Starting in 1917 the state persecution of religious Jews increased. During the High Holidays in 1948, Jews solemnly welcomed the ambassador of Israel Golda Meir. The narrow street was filled with people, the white and blue flags fluttered all over the crowd, and national songs were heard. However, at the end of 1948 anti-Semitism became the main focus of Stalin's domestic policy. | INTERESTING FACT #1: In 1984, the Israeli 10000 Sheqalim featured Golda Meir and a photo taken on the front steps of the Choral Synagogue. | INTERESTING FACT #2: Natan and Avital Sharansky first met outside of the Choral Synagogue.
5: Above (L): Simon Klarfiel, CCD scholar-in-residence, with Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the spiritual leader of the Moscow Choral Synagogue, head of the rabbinnical court of the CIS, and is an officer of the Russian Jewish Congress. Goldschmidt represents the Russian Jewish community politically as well. Above (R): Former refusenik who now lives in Israel.
6: Dinner Cruise on the Moscow River (R) Young adult participants of Hillel and JDC's young leadership program Knafayim. The Israeli Ambassador to Moscow (top R) opened the program.
8: Lidia Gangan Lydia was born in Kishinev, Moldova, in 1994. Her family was Jewish but they had not practiced nor discussed religion since the Russian Revolution in 1917. When Lydia was 9, her father asked her if she wanted to attend Jewish Secondary School #22. Not knowing what being Jewish was, or what going to a Jewish school would be like, young Lydia accepted. Lydia started school and came home her first day to teach her family of 8 (her parents, grandparents, siblings) what she had learned in school that day. She did this nearly every day and brought Judaism into her home where there had been none for generations. 9-year-old Lydia taught her family what being Jewish meant. As Pesach rolled around, Lydia told her family about all of the Passover traditions that she learned about in school and that year, in 2003, her family held their first Passover Seder in nearly 100 years. In addition to Lydia's schooling, her parents began attending a local Chesed center where they learned more about being Jewish. Lydia attended a Jewish summer camp where she now serves as a counselor and she had the opportunity to travel to Israel on a school trip. She talks about making aliyah to Israel someday, or perhaps moving to the United States. And Lydia's brother will become a Bar Mitzvah this year - the first Bar Mitzvah in Lydia's family for nearly a century. Lydia's school and her trip to Israel, the Chesed center her parents attend to this day – all are partially funded by the Jewish Federation's Annual Campaign. In Lydia's words "these Annual Campaign funds saved 8 people from losing their Judaism". Donors in North America, and beyond, made donations to their local Jewish Federations; those dollars helped Lydia and her family renew their Judaism.
9: Poklonnaya Gora Synagogue and Museum This Holocaust Memorial Synagogue is located on Poklonnaya Hill in Moscow. It was built in 1998 to complement an Orthodox church and a mosque that are also part of the outdoor museum dedicated to Russia's victory in World War II. The interior of the building was designed by Frank Meisler who created wall sculptures showing Jerusalem, the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the Five Books of Moses.
12: Tatyana, Gaby and David Gaby is currently part of the Na'ale High School Program in Israel. Na'ale offers 9th and 10th grade students who display academic excellence a fully subsidized three year high school program in Israel. The program includes Hebrew Ulpan, all academic studies until graduation, extracurricular activities, and full room and board. The program is run by JAFI’s Department of Immigration and Absorption. David graduated high school this year (2011) and the entire family will be making Aliyah to Israel in September and living in Ashkelon with family. Both David and Gaby will be converted to Judaism (Tatyana is not Jewish but their father is). David will enter the IDF in the coming year. | Jewish Agency for Israel's (JAFI) Jewish Activity Center This building is a national landmark but was newly renovated in 2011. We were the first group to see the new renovations.
13: Vanya Bodeg, 19 Vanya, the daughter of two non-practicing, but Jewish, artists, is currently a college student in Moscow majoring in costume design. Born in Jerusalem, Vanya moved to NYC with her parents as an infant. At age 10, Vanya's parents divorced and she was forced to return to Moscow with her mother for financial reasons. As a child, Vanya attended Jewish summer camp - her only connection to Judaism. "Camp changed my life," Vanya says today. She continued on as a counselor at the camp and took a Jewish leadership program. While Vanya plans to move to Israel (where her boyfriend lives) or the US after graduation, she says that her priority now, beyond school, is "[making sure] that Jewish children feel comfortable in Moscow."
14: Anton Nosik | Edward Kaufman | Merab Elashvili | Renowned internet expert and blogger | Member of the Board of Directors of Alfa Bank | President of GMR Hospitality Planet
15: Jewish Philanthropy In Russia Today Merab Elashvili emphasized that the tradition of philanthropy in his family is closely connected with a conscious choice, based on the precepts of Judaism and Jewish family values. Mr. Elashvili noted that as early as 1990, when he achieved his first notable success in business, the Elashvili family began to help needy Jews and religious communities. Currently, charitable programs initiated by Mr. Elashvili are being implemented in Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Israel, Cyprus and the USA. The programs are supported by the special "GMR Planet of Kindness" fund whose work is multidimensional. The Foundation supports the construction of synagogues, yeshivas and mikvaot, donates Torah scrolls, sponsors the training of rabbis and Jewish religious education for children and adolescents. According to Mr. Elashvili, he supports religious initiatives, carried out mainly through Chabad-Lubavitch for he has seen that through the initiatives of Chabad-Lubavitch, Jews are able to preserve their Jewishness and actually fight assimilation. The future of Jewish charity depends on this and in Russia - Jews see charity not only as a good deeds but as inseparable part of their religious consciousness. The Elashvili and Shamilashvili families have played a significant role in charitable activities. Amongst their activities are those that commemorate the memory of the patriarch of the family, Isaac Elashvili, who died tragically in 1977. In his memory, “Ohel Yitzchak” was erected in the "Triumph Palace" residential complex near Moscow’s Leningrad Prospect. Ohel Yitzchak has become a center of Jewish religious life for Georgian and Ashkenazi Jews in north-west Moscow. Anton Nosik emphasized the uniqueness of Russian philanthropy, which had to be created from scratch. “We could not just pick up and start giving money to those same organizations, synagogues and hospitals that helped our parents and grandparents since, during the Soviet times, the tradition of making donations was completely lost,” explained Mr. Nosik. “The only thing we could do is to create guiding principles for ourselves, to establish the rules and work according to them,” he said. According to Mr. Nosik, the most successful projects were those that involved maximum transparency in the collection and distribution of funds. For example, the charitable internet foundation Pomogi.org, founded in 2005 by Mr. Nosik and Sarah Nezhelsky, publishes the names of everyone who supported the site and provides direct targeted assistance to seriously ill children and large families. Edward Kaufman agreed with Mr. Elashvili that Jewish observance is the most important source of identity for Jews. He also talked about how, while working at the major Swiss bank UBS, he even created a Jewish prayer room in the premises of the Moscow UBS office. According to Kaufman, a Philadelphia native, "in Moscow you brag about your indiscretions and don't talk about your charity."
16: American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) The World's Leading Jewish Humanitarian Assistance Organization For 96 years, the JDC has exemplified globally the principle that all Jewish people are responsible for one another. Active today in over 70 countries, JDC and its partners work to rescue Jewish lives at risk, bring relief to Jews in need, renew lost bonds to Jewish identity and Jewish culture, and help Israel overcome the social challenges of its most vulnerable citizens, both Jewish and non-Jewish. JDC reach extends beyond the global Jewish community by providing non-sectarian disaster relief and long-term development assistance worldwide. In the former Soviet Union, home to the world’s poorest Jews, a network of JDC-supported Hesed welfare centers offer relief to more than 168,000 Jewish elderly in some 2,800 towns and villages, while Jewish Community Centers are fueling Jewish renewal for all ages across the region. JDC has provided significant resources to Russia's at-risk Jewish populations, addressing not only immediate material needs but also the need to rebuild Jewish culture and create a vibrant Jewish future. JDC’s efforts include: food cards for the purchase of groceries in local supermarkets; support for the healthy growth and development of ill, homebound children through home care services; and a program to integrate children with disabilities into formal and informal educational frameworks. A wide range of welfare programs and services benefit more than 73,000 Jewish elderly in Russia annually; More than 7,800 at-risk children receive assistance each year; NGO management training, operated in conjunction with Moscow’s prestigious State University Higher School of Economics, reaches Jewish and non-Jewish executives; YESOD JCC, a vibrant cornerstone of the St. Petersburg Jewish community, organizes a variety of events and ongoing programming for every age and interest; and Nikitskaya JCC in Moscow offers high-quality cultural and educational programming for adults and children, including Tapuz, unique kindergarten programs for ages 1.5 to 5 and school preparation courses for ages 5 to 7. Wherever JDC works, it is viewed as a trusted partner to propel vulnerable Jewish and non-Jewish communities from dependency to self-sustainability. | "In its mission and in its deeds , JDC is the 9-1-1 of the Jewish world." -JDC CEO & Executive V.P. Steven Schwager
18: Hesed: Defined as loving-kindness, it is also a social service provided by the JDC for needy elderly Jews. | The women at Hesed Chamah were busy doing various crafts and singing and dancing. It was a lively scene at this community center.
19: Mirra Leonidovna Shukhman is 85 years old and lives alone on the 6th floor in a severely dilapidated old Soviet style "walk up" apartment. She is one of 220,000 Holocaust survivors or individuals who were displaced by the Holocaust, in 11 time zones, who gets food packages and other life-saving services that we provide via the JDC. We had the honor to spend time with Mirra, hear her story and personally deliver her food package.
20: Jewish Agency Summer Camp Camping Stats: 2007: 13,000 campers 2011: 6,000 campers Campers come from 120+ cities throughout Russia. Registration occurs mostly through word of mouth. 60% of campers are from mixed marriages. "Before camp they don't know if they're Jewish or Russian or what. After camp they feel more Jewish." Sessions are 7 or 10-days and for ages 11-13 and 14-17. All activities are run in English.
21: Dana Weiss opened our first session in Israel. She explains that Israel's unemployment is at a record low (6%) and is seeing record economic growth and security. However, the gap between the wealthy and the poor is widening and she believes that the elections in September could bring about a "tsunami" and perhaps the 3rd Intifada. | Ruti Sinai - 1 in 5 Israelis live below the poverty line and there is a growing class of working poor. | Udi Segal - Believes there needs to be trust between Israelis and Palestinians in order for there to be peace. | Ari Issascharaff - Believes that public opinion is the decision maker for the leadership of Israel.
22: JDC's TEVET & MAFTEYACH The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) leads some fantastic programs in Israel. One such program is TEVET (Fighting Poverty Through Employment) which JDC runs in partnership with the Government of Israel. TEVET was forged in 2006 to remove social barriers to employment and raise the level of marketable skills among Israel’s most vulnerable communities—new immigrants, the ultra-Orthodox, the disabled, young adults, and Israeli Arabs. Aiming to break the cycle of poverty through employment, TEVET provides a wide range of assistance, including: professional development, microenterprise loans and mentoring, and partnerships with business sectors to increase employment access. TEVET is putting all sectors of Israel’s citizenry to work. | More than 35,000 Israelis have benefited from the highly efficient TEVET Initiative. Included in these numbers are 3,500 members of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community who receive help with their job search, interviewing, and placement process through Haredi Job Opportunity Centers (Mafteyach). MAFTEYACH (”Key” in Hebrew) is the acronym for Employment Development Centers for Haredim, to promote the integration of ultra-Orthodox men and women into the workforce. Using Haredi staff members, these job placement centers offer information and guidance, help with resume-writing and job searches, and a job database geared to the needs of the Haredi population; they also offer follow-up monitoring of those newly employed. As of 2011, there are approximately 1.3 million Haredi Jews in the world, 700,000 in Israel. However, the Haredi Jewish population is growing very rapidly, doubling every 17 to 20 years. We visited the Mafteyach in Ashdod, the 5th largest city in Israel with a population of 207,800, of which 14,000 are Haredi. Ashdod also boasts the 3rd largest and fastest growing Haredi population in Israel along with an 8% unemployment rate (6% is the national average in Israel). | Mafteyach (Ashdod) Staff & Participants
23: Margalit, 29 Margalit, originally from Netanya, is a married mother of two. Her husband works as an electrician but she needs to work as well to help support the family. Through TEVET, Margalit found a job with a local software company that provides a culturally sensitive work environment. Her employer also allows Margalit to work from 8am-3:30pm so that she can pick her children up from daycare by 4pm daily. | Ruven, 28 Ruven attended Yeshiva and then Kollel until he married and had two children. He didn't feel that full-time learning was for him so he met with his Rabbi to see what to do. The Rabbi suggested he enter the Army which Ruven thought "was a good idea". Ruven explains that the Army gives him something that studying never could..."it's a shortcut to working." Ruven is committed to 4.5 years in the Army in exchange for a 9-month job training program he received through JDC's TEVET Initiative.
24: Taglit/Birthright Discussion Session Taglit-Birthright Israel provides the gift of first time, peer group, educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26. Taglit-Birthright Israel's founders created this program to send thousands of young Jewish adults from all over the world to Israel as a gift in order to diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity among world Jewry; and to strengthen participants' personal Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people. The gift of the 10-day trip is provided by our partners: private philanthropists through The Birthright Israel Foundation; the people of Israel through the Government of Israel; and Jewish communities around the world (North American Jewish Federations, Keren Hayesod and JAFI).
26: Taglit/Birthright Mega Event
27: World ORT World ORT is the world's largest Jewish education and vocational training non-governmental organization. Through their network of schools, colleges, training centers and programs in Israel, Russia, and many other countries worldwide, they benefited more than 200,000 people in 2010. World ORT's goal is to free individuals and communities from dependence and give them the chance to work towards a better life.
29: Mevasseret Zion Absorption Center Shlomo Molla is an Israeli politician who has served as a member of the Knesset for Kadima since February 2008. Shlomo was born in a small Jewish village of 40 families in Gondar Province, Ethiopia in 1965 into a family of 9 brothers and 2 sisters. In 1984, he attempted to immigrate to Israel on foot. He walked 780 kilometers in 10 days to Sudan where his best friend was shot and killed by Sudanese forces. The group was jailed, and beaten, in Sudan for 91 days until they were rescued by Israeli forces and taken to a refugee camp. Molla was "rescued" by Israeli paratroopers in February. On the plane to Israel, the group sang "Shalom Alechem". Upon arriving in Israel, Shlomo was shocked to learn that Jews could be white. He also learned how to use an elevator (after riding on one for 25 minutes, not realizing that they should get off when the doors opened at the appropriate floor) and how to speak Hebrew while in the hospital, where he was sent days after his arrival in Israel with malaria. After serving in the IDF, Shlomo studied for a BA in social work at Bar-Ilan University and served as co-chairman of the Organization of Ethiopian Students. He later received his Law Degree from Ono Academic College. In 1991, Shlomo became head of a JAFI immigrant absorption center in Tiberias, and in 1995 was appointed supervisor of the absorption centers and ulpans in northern kibbutzim. In 1996 he became a member of the Ministry of Health's committee to advise on war conditions, and in 1999 became head of the Jewish Agency's Ethiopian Division. Shlomo is married with three children and lives in Rishon LeZion.
30: Natan Sharansky (Anatoly Borisovich Shcharansky) Former Soviet refusenik and prisoner, Israeli politician, human rights activist and author, today Sharansky is the Chair of the Executive of JAFI.
31: Radisson Royal Hotel (Formerly Hotel Ukraina) One of Moscow's most famous and eye-catching landmarks, the hotel is one of the Seven Sisters (seven tall skyscrapers from the Stalinist era). Built during the latter part of Stalin's Soviet leadership in the late 1940s and early 1950s, these 20th-century skyscrapers will always serve as important monuments to that time.
32: The Kremlin The Moscow Kremlin, sometimes referred to as simply The Kremlin, is a historic fortified complex at the heart of Moscow, overlooking the Moskva River, Saint Basil's Cathedral and Red Square and the Alexander Garden. It is the best known of kremlins (Russian citadels) and includes four palaces, four cathedrals and the enclosing Kremlin Wall with Kremlin towers. The complex serves as the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation.
34: Top: Private Churches for Russian Royalty. Bottom (R) : World's Largest Bell...never used. The broken piece weighs 200 tons.
35: The Lubyanka (Former KGB Building) The Lubyanka was originally built in 1898 as the Neo-Baroque headquarters of the All-Russia Insurance Company. A clock is centered in the uppermost band of the facade. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, the structure was seized by the government for the headquarters of the secret police, then called the Cheka. In Soviet Russian jokes it was referred to as the tallest building in Moscow, since Siberia could be seen from its basement. After the dissolution of the KGB, the Lubyanka became the headquarters of the Border Guard Service of Russia, and houses the Lubyanka prison and one directorate of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB).
36: Farewell dinner at Hotel Metropol Moscow.
37: We flew to Israel with 30 olim from the former Soviet Union. Shalom Israel!
38: Linda's never-ending birthday began with dessert for breakfast.
39: Made in Pittsburgh