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The Russians Are Coming – To Shul In Brighton Beach

Although not as frequently as we would like to see them, the Russians are coming in great numbers to services during the High Holy Days, and this year, they came also to rejoice on Succos. Well over 1,000 people jammed into the Hebrew Alliance of Brighton Beach during this past Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This is certainly a remarkable accomplishment considering the facts that they have had no religious freedom, are lacking a Jewish educational background, and have been isolated, as a group, from anything Jew­ish during the past 75 years.

The Hebrew Alliance, under Rabbi David B, Hollander’s enthusiastic guidance, in partnership with Friends of Refugees from Eastern Europe (F.R.E.E.) under the leadership of Rabbi Hershel Okunov from Lubavitoh, arranged a High Holiday program which included the inspira­tional chazanut of a Russian born cantor – Abraham Presman brought over from Eretz Yisroel, and explanations and instructions given during the services, by Russian speaking emissaries from Lubavitch. Every space and seat in the main shul was filled, and many, many more stood in the back of the synagogue as well as on a flight of stairs reaching to the street.

The crowd was attentive and responded enthusjastically to Rabbi Hollander’s inspiring sermons, A synopsis of Rabbi Hollander’s sermons was translated into Russian by Cantor Pressman and Rabbi Okunov. They contributed to the appeal for “Operation Exodus,” for the resettlement of Russian and Ethiopian Jewry in Israel. The Hebrew Alliance gave up its customary Yizkor appeal for its own maintenance in favor of the “Operation Exodus” appeal.

The Hebrew Alliance, in conjunction with F.R.E.E., operates programs for Russian Jewry throughout the year. This includes classes and Shabbos services followed each week by an elaborate Kiddush. It is hoped that through this program more and more Russians will attend services regularly and become more interested in Yiddishkeit, more observant, and more interested in sending their children to yeshivos and other educational programs.

During Succos, following the services in shul, the Jews from Russia – some here only a few weeks – were served by F.R.E.E. in the spacious succah set up in the shul yard. Simchas Torah was most uplifting to all who danced for hours with the Sifrei Torah. To the Jews from Russia, this joy of the Torah was a new chapter of their lives. There were many tearful comments, too numerous to list here, but one that cannot be omitted, came from a man in his early 50s who said that he had been a leading pilot in the Russian Air Force, but all his flying could not compare to the heights he reached when, for the first time in his life he danced, in the company of other Jews, with the Torah.

F.R.E.E. holds Friday night and Shabbos services every week. All Jews, especially those who are from Russia and who live within walking distance are invited to attend. The Hebrew Alliance has given its choicest facilities to the Russian minyan and for this, our collective appreciation is due to the officers of the Hebrew Alliance, under the leadership of Mr. Shmuel Kohn, Chairman and Mr. Paul Samuels, Treasurer. We heartily welcome our brothers and sisters from Russia.

Thank You

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