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After Bay Area Jews Lead Battle, a Synagogue is Dedicated in Russia

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Sometimes it pays to speak up. That’s the lesson the tiny Jewish community in the Russian town of Borovichi learned last week when it reaped the harvest of a campaign triggered in 1998, when Jewish officials there reported an increase in neo-Nazi activities.

Local Jews, town officials and a group of American Jews participated in the consecration of the town’s new synagogue, its first in 70 years. It came as a result of an international campaign launched by San Francisco Jews to protect Borovichi’s 300 Jews from anti-Semitism.

Last year, Borovichi officials received hundreds of messages from all over the world, part of the campaign launched by the Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal, urging them to protect Borovichi’s 300 Jews.

In response, authorities granted a space to Jews in the town’s central square for the synagogue, banned neo-Nazi activities and initiated a seminar to counter anti-Semitic and hate propaganda among the town’s youth.

The ultranationalist group Russian National Unity had threatened local Jews with violence, putting up anti-Semitic posters across the town, home to some 300,000 people.

The synagogue, named Beth Torah after its sister congregation in the Bay Area, also houses a Jewish social club with a library, a welfare organization and a human rights center.

Rabbi Steven Kaplan of Temple Beth Torah in Fremont, Calif., officiated at the ceremony.

The California delegation presented the Jewish community in Borovichi with a Torah scroll, a gift from Reform synagogue Beth David in Miami.

The scroll will be kept in an ark from the Borovichi’s old synagogue, which was closed by Communist authorities in the 1920s.

The Bay Area group provided funds for the new Jewish center, which in addition to the synagogue, also houses a Jewish social club with a library, a welfare organization and a human rights center.

“After so many years, we now have a place of our own where we can pray, get together as Jews at any time,” said Edward Alexeev, leader of the Borovichi Jewish community.

But the travails of the community, which is primarily elderly, are far from over.

Despite the ban, the Russian National Unity chapter continues to function in Borovichi and officials had to take extraordinary security measures for this week’s opening of the synagogue.

In April, days after local authorities granted space to the Jews, it was seriously damaged in what is believed to be an anti-Semitic arson attack.

“We have to continuously press the authorities for action if we want to feel safe,” Alexeev said.

He said there is little hope that the neo-Nazis will stop their activities because the town is experiencing severe economic hardships. Unable to find jobs, many Borovichi youths join ultranationalist groups, which offer simple solutions to their problems.

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