A series of FJC community development projects are taking place throughout the summer in the FSU, among them synagogue renovations, new mikvah ritual bath constructions and more. All the communities are citing increased interest in Jewish traditions and a rise in community involvement as the reason for expansion.
In July, the Jewish community of Tashkent, Uzbekistan began implementing the project of a new mikvah ritual bath construction. During the Communist rule, the atmosphere of a strict veto on religious observance was slightly more lenient in Tashkent, and it became the home to many Jewish activists seeking refuge from government surveillance in the more central regions of the country. Hence, a mikvah was already opened in Tashkent 26 years ago, right after the fall of the Iron Curtain. However, due to Uzbekistan’s frequent earthquakes the mikvah, whose durability depends on the quality of the soil, soon became unusable. “Today we see in increased interest in Jewish traditions in the community and so the issue of the mikvah once again became relevant,” said Tashkent Chief Rabbi Baruch Abramchayev. Therefore the community, with the help of the Satmar Fund and other sponsors, began the construction of a new ritual bath, whose corner stone was laid in a festive ceremony two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, in the southern Russian city of Astrakhan, on the Volga river, the community also began a mikvah construction, as part of its synagogue complex reconstructions. As opposed to Tashkent, the last mikvah in the city closed down in the 1920’s. Since then, those who wanted to observe the ritual had to travel 8 hours by train to the nearest mikvah in Volgograd, or take risky plunges in the murky waters of the Volga river, city rabbi Israel Melamed said. “We see a new generation that is a lot more involved with their Jewish heritage, and thus the problem of adequate infrastructure, including a mikvah, became more prevalent, “ rabbi Melamed said. Besides the ritual bath, the reconstructed building will include an expanded area for youth and children’s activities. Astrakhan community members are taking an active part in raising the necessary funds for the project, that is also sponsored by the Or Avner foundation.
Besides the construction, the Astrakhan community recently undertook an equally important project in filing and digitizing information on the city’s Jewish cemetery. Such an on-line digital catalog, that already exists in a few large cities, marks an important step in preserving the city’s Jewish history and makes information easily available to relatives and researchers. It also adds a lot of efficiency to cemetery maintenance. The initiative is made possible thanks to the local city donor Dmitry Bogopolsky.