“In Jewish history there are no coincidences.” (Elie Wiesel)
Jewish life in the FSU region has existed for centuries. Towards the middle of the 19th Century, communities began to gain distinction and Jews began to populate the more prominent echelons of society. Intellectuals and bankers, artists and professionals, even Jewish politicians began to hold sway. In addition to such luminaries as the famous Chassidic masters, head deans of world renown Yeshivot and outstanding community Rabbis, the world of Jewish culture also boasts names such as Tchernichowsky, Shalom Aleichem and Y. L. Peretz.
Unfortunately, with the advent of Communist rule, individualism and minority identity were strongly discouraged and religious persecution became a daily fact of life. Jews who tried to uphold their faith and traditions were often harassed, arrested, tortured and condemned to hard labor. Some were even executed.
The Holocaust wiped out three million Soviet Jews and left the rest shattered by bombardment, famine and post-war political terror. Jewish communities existed no more, and 2.5 million people had little knowledge of their rich cultural and religious heritage.
During this period, Judaism as a religion was practiced clandestinely by a brave minority. Ritual circumcision was performed in secret, prayer books and Matzahs were smuggled in, and Jewish activists risked their lives trying to keep the embers of Judaism alive. In 1941, a vast underground network of Jewish education, prayer services and humanitarian aid was established by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of blessed memory, who had left the Soviet Russia forNew Yorkin 1927.
The collapse of the Soviet system in 1989 was celebrated by the world’s third largest Jewish community. After nearly seventy years, they could finally worship freely; and a large Russian Diaspora – now fortified with over a million new immigrants – was there to provide generous support. Underground veterans became leaders, and rabbis sent by Chabad-Lubavitch provided the spiritual basis for renewal. Throughout a region covering ten time zones, synagogues, community centers and schools began springing up, and communities began to emerge with a distinctive Jewish flavor. Thus began the revival of a now ruined, but once glorious community.
In November 1998, recognizing the need for a united and efficient umbrella organization, leaders of these dispersed communities pooled their professional, financial and technical resources and created the Federation of Jewish Communities.