Jewish Students in Russia Find Miracles in Their Past

It’s a miracle that 70 years of Communist rule did not wipe out completely the roots of Jewish life and identity in a region where today a young generation of proud Jews is growing up. So thought the coordinators of FJC’s YAHAD programs platform, when they launched the project “Miracle Jews” over Chanukah.

The project, which will go on at least until Purim, asks university students to gather personal stories  of their family history and see which “miracle” allowed them to stay Jewish today.

“We want to draw attention to the fact that the existence of each Jewish family in the FSU that lived through those tough times is a part of one big miracle of the survival of the Jewish people, which is a theme of Chanukah and Purim celebrations. This is something that needs to be remembered,” said Liba Levina, the project’s organizer.

The stories are all gathered on a Facebook page. There are now some 40 stories from youngsters, most of which mention the “Great War” – World War II, which touched almost every family in the FSU. Many also talk about the repressions and antisemitism under Stalin’s rule, which filled the lives of ordinary Jews with terror and humiliation.

“In the Soviet Union many people were trying to hide the fact that they are Jewish and avoid noting that in their passports at any cost. (Nationality was a mandatory field in Soviet passports). My grandma did say that she is Jewish, even though she had to pay dearly for it: problems in the university, at work, constant mockery, even from friends and colleagues. But because of her courage my family kept our identity – we are the only ones from her large family who did,” so tells one story from a student in Moscow. 

Many stories feature photographs of their authors’ grandparents, yearning to keep their memory alive. “I am so grateful to my grandma Sarah and grandpa Solomon who passed their Jewish heritage on to the new generation,” another story says.

YAHAD director rabbi Mendy Willansky thinks that besides being very interesting for the readers, the project is also very important for the participants themselves: “The typical university student in Russia knows precious little about their own family’s Jewish history. While we try to bring traditions to our students, it is equally important for them to discover and connect to their family’s roots. As our sages say, know where you come from in order to understand where you’re going.”

The project is set to be launched on a separate website and add its voice to the witness accounts of Jewish survival in the FSU.

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