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.

fsu1aStudents 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 organizations to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance.

fsu2aAt FSU Hillel Awards, students are being recognized for the best initiatives
in the Jewish community.

7. Universities in the FSU aren’t based around campuses, so Hillel branches in the region are more central and community-based – a little like a JCC for students.

fsu2Jewish students celebrate the beginning of a new school year at Hillel in Donetsk.

8. Hillel students respond to community needs by providing services during emergency situations such as smoke from wildfires in Moscow in 2012, flooding in Russia’s Far East in 2013 and the Ukraine conflict in 2014.

fsu3aMoscow Hillel students at the post-Taglit gathering where they learn about different ways to get involved in the Jewish community.

9. Every year, students from across the region come together to compete in the Hilleliada sports competition that involves different sports and Jewish trivia.

fsu3Kiev Hillel student participates in Hilleliada sports competition.

10. The Week of Good Deeds across the region engages up to 2,700 volunteers annually in community service initiatives.

fsu4Hillel students open the Week of Good Deeds on the main square of Kharkov.

11. Over the years, hundreds of American college students visited Hillels in FSU on alternative break service trips. Watch this video of one such trip by University of Maryland Hillel students.

fsu4aStudents from Stanford Hillel visit their Moscow Hillel peers
on an Alternative Spring Break.

12. Each year during Pesach Project, Hillel volunteers conduct nearly a hundred seders for various ages and populations including those in small and remote Jewish communities.

fsu5Many young people in Ukraine experience their first seder at Hillel, where they learn how to conduct the celebration. The following year, many of them lead seders throughout the community at Jewish schools and Chesed centers.

13. Hillels in the Ukraine operate three IT schools for students to provide them with skills necessary to find well-paying jobs.

fsu5aThe schools also attract a different type of student who might otherwise not come to the Jewish community activities. Students at Dnepropetrovsk Hillel IT school are gaining the skills to find better jobs.

14. Moscow Hillel holds the Guinness World Record for most Chanukah candles lit at the same time.


15. Hillels of Baku and Tashkent openly operate in the predominantly Muslim states of Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.

fsu15-1FLU Hillel students visiting Jerusalem on their Taglit-Birthright Israel: Hillel trip.

16. Hillel sent the first Taglit-Birthright Israel group to Israel in 2001. Since then, 6,500 students have participated in Hillel FSU Taglit-Birthright Israel trips.

fsu7Post-Taglit gathering in Dnepropetrovsk.
Upon return, Hillel staff works with alumni to engage them in community life.

17. Early FSU Hillel alumni are now serving on Hillel boards of directors and mentor current students in the areas of their professional expertise.

fsu8Hillel alumni who met their spouses at Hillel
bring their children to a special Passover celebration.

18. Since Hillel was founded, more than 300 Jewish weddings have taken place among those who met in FSU Hillel.

fsu6aRabbi Yossie Goldman blessing newlyweds who met at Hillel FSU.

19. Hillels in FSU used to be run from Jerusalem and Washington but are now led by local professionals and board members from Moscow and Kiev.

fsu7aStudents from across Ukraine come to Odessa to compete in Jewish trivia competition.

20. FSU Hillels are closely working with all local community organizations, from Chabad to reform to secular. Hillel student leaders work in the Jewish Agency’s summer camps and volunteer with JDC’s community centers and welfare programs.

fsu9 Student leadership training

courtesy Hillel International