CHELYABINSK, Russia, Nov. 13 (JTA) – A synagogue recently dedicated here is being called an example of a rare cooperation between rival Jewish groups – and local politicians.
Jews first came in large numbers to this city, known for manufacturing nuclear weapons parts, around World War II, when Stalin moved large arms factories here from Nazi-occupied parts of the Soviet Union.
But even though Chelyabinsk’s 10,000 Jews have long been active in the economic life of the city, the old synagogue was closed during the Communist era and Jewish religious life in the city was virtually absent until the past five years.
Lubavitch Rabbi Meir Kirsch, who now runs a day school for 50 kids and a yeshiva, deserves some of the credit.
So does the umbrella Russian Jewish Congress, which managed to mobilize a group of local businessmen who raised money to help the Jewish community.
“It is only the first step,” said local construction magnate Yakov Oks, who plans to build a Jewish Community Center building near the synagogue, which can house 300 worshipers.
In a short time, the group managed to collect enough local money to build a new synagogue with very little money coming from Moscow.
The director of the Moscow office of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, who also supports such projects, praised the Russian Jewish Congress for helping to elevate philanthropy, which has little tradition in Russia.
“In many places they managed to turn donating money for the community into a popular and prestigious activity,” said Joel Golovensky.