Ulyanovsk’s Jewish community, hosted last week their annual communal Shabbaton, inviting over 80 locals to participate in two intense days of learning, bonding and celebrating. The event took place in a hotel in nearby town of Dimitrovgrad, where additional participants joined the group after Shabbat for a Chanukah party.
This year was the seventh year the community gathered to spend the Shabbat together. This time the event focused on teenagers, young adults and a group of local women. Several well-known lecturers from Israel and Moscow also came to spend the Shabbat with the group and share their knowledge about Jewish heritage and wisdom. And on Saturday night the Shabbaton concluded with a Chanukah party that included the ceremonial Menorah lighting, singing, dancing, workshops and a festive meal.
“It was so inspiring to celebrate Chanukah in a warm and friendly atmosphere under the light of hundreds of candles,” Natasha, a 13-year old participant said. Vladimir, 16-years old adds: “I never thought hanging out with a group of Jewish friends and a rabbi could be so much fun.”
As for Chanukah presents, the local Dimitrovgrad youngsters were presented with clothing gift certificates to the retail chain Gloria Jeans, a bi-annual initiative organized by FJC and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFJC) a few years ago. Now they can buy new warm and stylish clothing for the winter.
Looking at the busy pace of activity at the Jewish community of Ulyanovsk, Russia, it is hard to imagine that only ten years ago the community was on the brink of complete assimilation. With no synagogue and no rabbi, the city’s youth was drifting further and further away from their roots. That began to change in 2006 when rabbi Yosef Marozov and his wife arrived in the city to try and revive Jewish life under the umbrella of the FJC. Now, ten years later, there is a steady stream of Jewish activity in the city – regular prayer services, Hebrew school, a library and a kosher cafe, Torah-learning programs for men and women, a kindergarten and even a newspaper.
Nevertheless, youth programs are given a special focus. “These children are the future of our community, here in this city and in the entire country as well. We have to let them experience what they’ve been missing for their entire childhood in Russia – their Jewish heritage,” rabbi Marozov said. That’s why the Shabbaton always holds an important place in yearly activities and is especially celebrated, he said.