Are you kidding! Rosh Hashana in Moscow is my ruchniyus for the year. I go to the Dor Revii community of Rabbi Gediah Shestak and his rebbetzin who are literally an Abba and an Ima to all who walk through the door. There in the Mizrach on the left stand Sasha Meshibovsky and Eliyahu HaTzadik. Who is Sasha? Firstly, he grew up frum under the Soviets. Today he has a doctorate in chemistry and manufactures lubricants for helicopters, submarines and the like. But Sasha doesn’t define himself by his wealth – he spends a good deal of his time in the Beis Midrash. And who is Eliyahu Hatzadik. Well, he was formally a member of the Moscow Mafia. (Shake his hand and you can confirm that for yourself.) Eliyahu has a tough time reading Hebrew, so he arrives every Shabbos an hour early to start dovening ahead. Eliyahu has married and has a child – he is incredibly gentle with both. And he is a fountain of Divrei Torah. Now that is just one row of this amazing place.
Well what do I do there. Well first, I doven every tefila – Maariv, Psukei DeZimra, Shacharis, Musaf …. you get the idea. Inbetween I get to do things like give 90 minute shiurim, bless people (yes, I am the honorary holy man for 2 days – another reason I go), give advice ….. But I am really not telling the truth. Because I give my shiurim in Hebrew and they get translated into Russian. So, I really only give 45 minutes worth.
Now someone once asked me: But you don’t have a good voice? And that for sure is the truth. But you know what, these Jews of Moscow are not looking for that. (Or put more accurately they can’t tell the difference.) They are not lookiing for chazanus. They are looking for regesh. They want tefilah!! They are hungry these Jews. And I am totally mystified where that comes from. Just look at the name of this community – Dor Revii – the fourth generation. You know what it means to be the 4th generation of no Torah (70 years of communism and another 20 on top of that!). It means you don’t remember your grandmother lighting candles. You have nothing but your own neshama to draw on. And yet, these Jews find their way back. Why wouldn’t I want to be with them on Rosh Hashana?
Now I saw this community rise from the ashes. Touro agreed to provide a computer degree to create a half day kodesh – half day chol program. About 25 college aged kids join every year. And about 18 of them become frum every year. Try match that as a return on investment! In time others – different ages – also joined the community, including some awfully wealthy people who are the main funders of the community today. Yes, here is another secret of the Former Soviet Union – about 70% of the projects are funded locally today. Organizations like Ner LeElef has seen their share of total funding become a smaller percentage with time.
And here’s another secret – and the last for this piece: This Dor Revii makes about 7-8 chasunas of frum couples every year. There is a whole shidduch system in the FSU today that Ner LeElef supports which matches up boys and girls from different cities. Over 20 communities in the FSU has as their core Shomrei Shabbos Yidden. Even ten years ago that wasn’t the case. The communist revolution was quick-lived, but the Jewish revolution – that ain’t going away so fast!!!
Kesiva VeChasima Tova!