An excited crowd gathered around as Rabbi Berel Lazar, Chief Rabbi of Russia, along with the governor of the Jewish Autonomous Region, Alexander Levintal, and the Chief Rabbi of Birobidzhan, Rabbi Eliyahu Riss, cut the red ribbon, officially opening the first Jewish Youth Center in the Far East of Russia. The new center is located in Birobidzhan, in the famous and historical Jewish Autonomous Region of Russia.
“This is the first center of its kind in Russia,” said Rabbi Berel Lazar while addressing the gathered crowd, “but by no means the last.”
“The center,” shared Rabbi Eliyahu Riss, “cost 25 million rubles (approximately 400,000 dollars) which were generously donated by Jews from Russia and abroad. It is a place where Jewish children and youth can learn about their Jewish heritage, culture, traditions, religion and language in a formal as well as informal setting.” The center will be a place for the Yahad and EnerJew organizations to meet with the youth, hold gatherings and club meetings through which they educate and build Jewish pride.
Before the ceremony, Rabbi Lazar met with a group of local teenagers with whom he shared words of Torah and answered their questions. One question was, ”is it difficult to be the chief rabbi of Russia.” Rabbi Lazar smiled as he answered, “Jews are not simple people, they are of many opinions and personalities. The Jews of Russia are a unique breed of Jews, they see the beauty and importance of the traditions. While Jews elsewhere will question the need for lighting Shabbat candles or donning Tefillin, the Jews of Russia perform these rituals with joy. The job is not easy by any means, it is, however, very interesting and fulfilling.”
The opening of the center was a double celebration, for the first kosher restaurant in Birobidzhan was opened at the same time. The ceremony included a kosher food tasting, allowing the crowd to sample the kosher traditional dishes that will be served at the restaurant.
With the active support of the community and governor, the Jewish community of Birobidzhan has great plans for the future. They plan on opening a Mikvah (Jewish ritual bath) as well as enlarging the kindergarten and establishing a Jewish school.
“In 2020,” announced Alexander Levintal, governor of the Jewish Autonomous Region, “we will have a Jewish festival right here in Birobidzhan.”