TORONTO (Sep. 8)
An Eastern European city known for an infamous pogrom a century ago is getting a Jewish community center of its own. Living in the former Soviet republic of Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries, Kishinev’s 18,000 Jews soon will have a center complete with recreational facilities, computer room, Holocaust center, vocational training and educational classes in Hebrew and English.
Built on the site of an old synagogue, The Kishinev Jewish Campus will unite all of the city’s major Jewish communal organizations under one roof and provide a wide range of welfare, community and religious activities and services.
It’s a gift from the Jews of Toronto, some of whom will be on hand when the first mezuzot are affixed at the center’s Sept. 13 opening.
Allan Brown, for one, can’t wait to get there.
The Toronto businessman and volunteer first heard about the Jews of Kishinev, now known as Chisinau, several years ago when the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee partnered Kishinev Jewry with the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.
In 2003 Brown toured the community with a half-dozen others, and in early September he’ll return with two dozen Torontonians as co-chair of the local federation’s Kishinev Mission.
The JDC acquired the building in 2003 and called upon Toronto to help rebuild the community’s Jewish roots. A $500,000 donation from Toronto resident Stephen Lewar, who since has passed away, made construction of the new community center possible.
Building on JDC’s Hesed Yehuda initiative, which offers basic welfare needs to Kishinev’s Jewish elderly, the center’s ORT Computer Center will provide computers and Internet access to Kishinev’s elderly, who can become pen-pals with Russian-speaking seniors from Toronto’s Bernard Betel Centre for Creative Living.
Kishinev is known for a 1903 program that spurred Jewish migration from the Russian Empire to the United States. Forty-nine Jews were killed and more than 500 injured on April 6-7 — the beginning of Easter — when angry mobs rampaged through some of the city’s poorest quarters.
Brown said his link to the city is based on two things.
It’s about "helping Jews in a very difficult poverty situation, to show that they’re not isolated, to show that they have friends in North America," he said. "It’s a vehicle not just of communication from center to center but from people to people. And it brings a level of education to the young. It helps them improve themselves, to have a better life."