Summer in Russia and Ukraine sees Mitzvah Tanks visiting the most distant communities throughout the region, thanks to a unique project backed by the Federation of Jewish Communities.
Leaders and community rabbis throughout the region have a deep desire to bring the joy and light of Judaism to Jews everywhere. In both countries, there are hundreds of small communities that have no Rabbi of their own. Rarely do these communities enjoy any Jewish activity, and when the young Rabbis roll into their town with a mobile ‘Mitzvah Tank’ [usually a caravan] decorated with Jewish symbols and blasting Jewish tunes, they are filled with joy.
The tanks also visit communities that have a Rabbi and a larger Jewish community. They come with their youthful energy and strengthen the local community. Sometimes the Rabbi enjoys a small vacation while the young Rabbis on the tank hold services on his behalf.
The young Rabbis spend their time meeting Jews, learning and dancing with them, putting tefillin on the men and encouraging the women to light Shabbat candles.
They also sell them Judaica objects such as mezuzah, tefillin, tallit and more, as well as Jewish books at a highly subsidized price. In Ukraine, where the financial situation is so dire that most Jews cannot afford to pay for Jewish items, books and other Judaica are distributed free. Thanks to the FJC (Federation of Jewish communities of the CIS) and the Fellowship Foundation, they are also able to distribute food packages to families living in truly difficult circumstances.
In Russia, Rabbi Yehuda Davidov has spearheaded a mezuzah campaign that allows a family to buy a mezuzah for a mere $2.
The young rabbis visit many of the Jews in their homes and offices, affix a mezuzah, share a word of Torah and strengthen their Jewish connection. The tanks are often filled with local Jews gathering around and listening to a Torah class, praying, or dancing in the street to lively Jewish music.
The tanks travel more than 1500 KM throughout their two-week campaign, often driving between eight to nine hours to visit a distant community. The young Rabbis eat canned kosher food and whatever supplies they have brought along with them. They are young, charismatic, have a good grasp of the Russian language and are motivated by the intrinsic desire to touch as many Jewish souls as possible and to leave a lasting impression that will ultimately bring the Jews they meet closer to their roots.
In Russia, the project has been operating for eight years under the supervision and support of the Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar. In Ukraine, the project began three years ago and is an extraordinary success.