Special Interview a Guiding Light for Soviet Jews

“Chamah,” an organization of Soviet Jews who settled in Israel, is expanding its activities on behalf of Russian Jews in Israel and marking more than 10 years of operation with the building of a center in Kiryat Malachai, an immigrant town in the north of the Negev.

According to Rabbi Hillel Zaltzman and Rabbi Benjamin Malachovsky, both members of the executive committee of Chamah and its representatives in the United States, the Chamah building project is scheduled to be completed in a few weeks. Most of the money for the building, which cost $250,000, was raised in the United States. The yearly budget of the organization, they told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency “is more than $500,000″ and comes from the Jewish Agency, the Israeli government and fund-raising activities abroad, mainly in the United States and Canada.

Zaltzman explained that Chamah’s activities “are not just a helping hand but a guiding light for the Russian Jews” who come to live in Israel. “Getting Jews out of the Soviet Union is only the first step,” he said. “When they arrive in Israel they are strangers in a strange land. The language is different. Back in the Soviet Union, many of them had only a vague understanding of Judaism, and no knowledge of Jewish customs and history.”

Chamah’s main goal, therefore, is to spread Judaism and encourage the Jewish identity of the Russian newcomers, Zaltzman said. At the same time, Malachovsky said, Chamah is offering various activities to the newly arrived Russian Jews in Israel. “Chamah’s activities truly begin by greeting the new arrivals at the airport and by counselling them as to suitable housing in Israel,” Malachovsky said.

CHAMAH’S ACTIVITIES OUTLINED

He said that Chamah’s activities in the field of education have been expanding continuously. Presently, he said, about 5000 children and young adults are participating in the organization’s educational programs, which include Hebrew language tutoring, preparation for Bar Mitzvah, teaching Jewish heritage, organizing summer camps for children and holding Talmud Torah classes after regular school hours stressing Jewish studies and tradition.

The new Chamah center in Kiryat Malachai, Zaltzman and Malachovsky said, will serve as an “educational absorption center, the first of its kind in Israel.” The center, they said, will accomodate 350 immigrant youth and “Will help them begin a new life in their new home.”

Other activities of Chamah, the two rabbis said, include the establishment of libraries throughout Israel, arranging circumscision for immigrant boys and young adults, providing interest-free loans to new immigrant families, distributing clothing packages to families in need, and sponsoring holiday celebrations for Russian immigrants and distributing literature in Russian to acquaint them “with the holiday spirit and customs.”

In the last 10 years, some 160,000 Russian Jews have settled in Israel, Zaltzman and Malachovsky noted, contending that Chamah played an important role in the absorbtion of many of them. They said that the organization’s president, Rabbi Moshe Nisselevich, is presently in Toronto, Canada on a fund-raising campaign.

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