In the Ashkenazi Heartland, a Struggle over Ruins and Jewish Memory

In Lviv, Ukraine, it's not uncommon to spot faded Hebrew letters on the exterior of buildings, as is the case at right in this photo; photo courtesy Jason Francisco.

By Eitan Arom Walking through Lviv, a Ukrainian city near the Polish border whose Jewish population is a small fraction of what it once was, it’s not uncommon to spot faded Hebrew letters on the outside of shops. Scattered through town are plaques commemorating vanished sites of Jewish heritage. Graffiti swastikas here and there tell of an age-old hatred etched into cultural memory. But perhaps the most emblematic symbol of the city’s forgotten Jewish past is the Golden Rose synagogue. In 1941, during the systematic destruction of Lviv’s Jewish population by the occupying Nazi army, it somehow escaped total obliteration. Now, the ruins sit in a rapidly gentrifying portion of the downtown area, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. A flagstone prayer hall once covered by a … [Read more...]

Remembering the Past as I Build a New Future

By Elena Feldman Living in Tula, Russia, I have a deep commitment and connection to my Jewish identity. I was privileged to be invited as a delegate to an international conference held in Prague, Czech Republic, on May 26-27th. The "Life with Dignity" conference was dedicated to the problems that face victims of Nazism and survivors of the Holocaust. The conference was organized by the European Shoah Legacy Institute and attended by representatives of public and government structures, nonprofit organizations and foundations from thirty-nine countries. Only two organizations represented the nonprofit sector in Russia: the Tula Regional Jewish Charitable Center "Hasdey Neshama" and Jewish Charities "Family Center" (Rostov-on-Don). I have been immersed in the Jewish community in Tula, Russia, … [Read more...]

Chabad in Russia: At What Cost?

As supreme as Chabad has become, that tireless work - and the Lubavitchers’ willingness to establish outposts across Russia’s vast territory - has earned the Hasidim a measure of respect from all corners of the Jewish community.

[This essay is from Contact, a publication of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life. Reprinted with permission.] By Josh Tapper Photographs by Max Avdeev The expansive gold-tinted sanctuary inside the Marina Roscha synagogue sits at the top of an imposing central staircase, through a towering set of double doors. On a recent Friday evening, as the Sabbath began to fall in Moscow, the sanctuary was flooded with men, intimately backslapping and handshaking as if they were in a tiny shtiebel, not the palatial aerie of Chabad Lubavitch, the largest and most influential Jewish organization in Russia. In a corner near the entrance, Berel Lazar, the country’s Milan-born, New York-raised chief rabbi, sat inconspicuously at a table, quietly conducting a shiur (Torah lesson) in Russian to a rapt … [Read more...]

Seven Things to Know As Ukraine’s Crisis Continues

Screenshot from JDC Crisis Update: Ukraine

As we enter the summer months, with a focus on family, friends, and general respite from taxing schedules and demands, let’s also reaffirm our commitment to the Jews of Ukraine. By Alan H. Gill Despite a fragile ceasefire between the Ukrainian government and separatist forces, news of violence is once again making headlines with major fighting near Donetsk. And yet the humanitarian toll of this crisis - impacting tens of thousands of Jews - is no longer in the news and is naturally slipping way from our communal agenda. Challenges to personal safety, widespread devastation, instability in the separatist-controlled regions, economic collapse, and a total lack of public services exacerbate the already harsh lives of some of the poorest Jews in the world. And it is our responsibility to … [Read more...]

Baku Bar Mitzvah

Rabbi Yonah in Azerbaijan

By Rabbi Yonah Bookstein Part 1 in a series on Azerbaijan [I recently traveled to Azerbaijan to speak at the 6th International Conference on Multiculturalism at Baku Slavic University. … [Read more...]

Limmud FSU Moldova Attracts Hundreds of Young Jews

Matthew Bronfman oresenting: "The Bronfman Family - from Ataki to New York.

By Daniel K. Eisenbud and eJP staff Over 400 mostly young Jews from Moldova have registered for a three-day conference in the country this weekend, sponsored by Limmud FSU, to reconnect to their once severed roots via renowned Jewish experts representing a spectrum of disciplines. The program, which begins today, will include lectures, debates, workshops, round-table discussions, music and cultural discourse in Russian, English, and Hebrew - all run by international volunteers in coordination with the country’s local Jewish community. According to Chaim Chesler, founder of Limmud FSU, a primary focus of the program will be recognition of the poet Natan Alterman and the painter Nachum Gutman, whose family members will also participate in the conference. “The Jewish community of … [Read more...]

The Dangers in Russia are Great, says Senior Russian Rabbi

Limmud FSU Moscow, the flagship event of Limmud FSU, is currently taking place in the Moscow countryside. Some 1,400 participants, most between 25-40 are participating.

Speaking last night at the opening of the annual Limmud FSU conference in Moscow, Alexander Boroda, Chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, said; “The Jews of Russia must realize the dangers inherent in the possible collapse of the Putin government to understand the rules of the game and to be aware of the limitations.” Boroda elaborated, “The government bears a similarity to that of the period of the Tsars, inasmuch as the personality of the president plays a far more important role than that of the president of the United States. All the Jews in Russia, and especially those who might be considering actions against the Putin administration, must understand the grave dangers that they take upon themselves and the potential consequences for themselves and for others. If they … [Read more...]

20 Facts about Hillel in the Former Soviet Union


1. The first FSU Hillel opened in 1994 in Moscow as a collective effort of Hillel International, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. 2. There are now 18 Hillels working in the FSU, covering eight time zones, from Minsk Hillel in Belarus to Khabarovsk Hillel in Russia’s Far East. 3. Every year, FSU Hillels engage about 14,000 students and young adults in Jewish life. 4. Women make up 50 percent of FSU Hillel directors. 5. The overwhelming majority of Jewish students come to Hillel in FSU from completely assimilated families with almost no Jewish backgrounds. Students from St. Petersburg Hillel light Shabbat candles, many for the first time in their lives. 6. Hillels in FSU work with other national and ethnic … [Read more...]