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January 19, 2017 / 21 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

The Walter Bingham File – UK Leads Europe Against Anti-Semitism [audio]

Monday, January 16th, 2017

That Was The Week That Was. UK Leads Europe Against Anti-Semitism ———–

In this packed program we discuss the methods used by the UK Parliament to combat Anti-Semitism, and their cooperation with Jewish Institutions.

Hear about: US Secretary of State John Kerry’s desperate attempt to leave a legacy.

Plus: More about the farcical trial of Sgt. Elor Azariya.

Also: How the UN Security Council resolution 2334 about a two-state solution has dangerous existential implications for Israel.

And: How the non appearance of Ministers at terror victim funerals reflects on our electoral system..

The Walter Bingham File 15Jan2017 – PODCAST

Israel News Talk Radio

Knesset Committee Hears Diaspora Jewish Students Won’t Support Israel in US, Europe, Fearing Anti-Semitism

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Jewish students are refraining from expressing support for Israel on campuses in the US and Europe due to their fear of anti-Semitism, students told the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, according to an official report issued Monday.

A survey presented by the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs showed that in 2015 some 9,000 verbal anti-Semitic attacks were reported on Facebook; 11,354 on Twitter; and 4,468 on Instagram. In addition, 4,465 anti-Semitic video clips were posted on YouTube. It was also found that 40% of Europe’s citizens are anti-Semitic and 75% of Jewish students in the US were attacked for anti-Semitic reasons.

Jewish students living abroad told the committee that anti-Semitism and the BDS movement are causing them to conceal their Jewish identity (some keep their yarmulkes in their pockets) and their pro-Israel positions.

Committee Chairman MK Avraham Neguise (Likud) said, “Today, mainly on academic campuses dominated by extreme liberalism, anti-Semitism is disguised as condemnation of the Jewish State. It is fueled by hatred towards the State of Israel.”

“When it is no longer polite and fashionable to hate Jews as they are,” said Neguise, “the hatred is disguised as criticism of the Jewish State”.

Prof. Irwin Cotler, former Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada, said the current level of anti-Semitism “is the highest in 40 years, and includes the rejection of Israel’s right to exist at all, and the portrayal of Israel as a monster and enemy of mankind.”

He added that under the UN’s patronage, Israel is condemned more than any other country. “And the amazing thing is that the countries which lead the condemnations under the claim of ‘damage to human rights’ are Iran, China, and Saudi Arabia.”

Gilad Kabilo, activity coordinator at the StandWithUs organization, spoke of their 15 years of activity, including in social media. “We thwart boycott-related activities while producing good results on the ground, and we distribute accurate information about Israel, as well as promote discourse on the right of the Jewish nation to its historical native land,” he told the committee.

Ido Daniel, Program Director at Israeli Students Combating Anti-Semitism, spoke of the increasing anti-Semitic incitement on the web. The program’s activists fight [anti-Semitism on the web] using 16 languages, and have combated more than 30,000 anti-Semitic incidents on social media over the last year alone.

“People in the world understand that boycott or criticism of Israel’s policy means denial of the Holocaust, the demonization of Jews, and a license to murder Jews,” he said. “The outcome is that Jews are afraid to openly express their Judaism.”

MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) spoke of the UN-funded textbooks in the Palestinian Authority. “They are full of pathologic hatred towards Jews, desire and aspiration for Israel’s destruction,” she said, while noting that a Jewish friend of hers in Atlanta said that this year she refrained from placing a Hanukkah menorah at her window.

According to Hagai Bar of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Today’s boycott activists have withdrawn from attack to defense mode, and are currently fighting over the right to boycott.”

Jonathan Elkhoury of the Christian Empowerment Council spoke of the change in the position of many students after they hear a Christian Arab such as himself defending of Israel.

Juda Stone of the Jewish Agency warned of the phenomenon of Jewish students who are afraid of anti-Semitism, which “leads them to escape their own identity.”

Benny Fischer, president of the European Union of Jewish students, said that not all those who support boycotting Israel are anti-Semitic, but they see themselves as “peace activists.” He also warned against the use of phrases such as “Jews have no future in Europe.”

Hadar Farkash, a student at Berkley University, spoke of the phenomenon of anti-Israel lecturers, as well as Palestinians and Americans – and even Jews – who are anti-Israel.

Jonah Shipmiler of NGO Monitor spoke of boycott movements which operate in Israel and encourage Israeli youngsters not to enlist in the IDF.

Jerusalem Institute of Justice, in cooperation with CA-inspiration, which operates on US campuses using a unique method which incorporates campaign research in social media, presented to the committee figures on exposure to content through social media. The exposure itself brought about a thorough change in the discourse at the Indiana University and Purdue campuses, as well as a profound change in the way organizations which promote incitement and violent discourse against Israel operate on social networks.

JNi.Media

Friends Of Refugees Of Eastern Europe In Chicago (Conclusion)

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

Education, brit milah programs, summer camps – just some of the ways the people at F.R.E.E. helped Russian immigrants integrate and become successful.

More successful than sending the boys to camp in the Catskills was our Russian-language library. The librarian was Chana Lieberman, who happened to be the daughter-in-law of the last rabbi of Minsk before the war. Her father, Berel Yaffa, was one of the leaders of the Lubavitcher chassidim in Samarkand. The library was open every Sunday morning with a stock of about 200 books that had been brought to the U.S. by the immigrants themselves.free-123016-bochrim

We had many different people volunteering to take on various important projects. For example, Marvin and Riva Shlanger took upon themselves the responsibility of preparing the immigrant kids for their bar and bat mitzvos. The kids came to their house, and were taught what they needed to know. At the appropriate time, we would arrange the bar or bat mitzvah, mostly free of charge. We made the celebrations for each child individually, with music, good food and a truly festive atmosphere. The parents and grandparents were very grateful to us for bringing the Torah spirit into their lives.

A complex but rewarding project was arranging wedding ceremonies for young couples who wanted to marry, as well as for those who already had a civil marriage but never stood together under the chuppa. On one occasion, we made chuppas in a hotel for thirty-six couples who had not had the chance to marry halachically. We prepared the brides for the wedding, and made sure to make the celebration a lively and happy occasion.

We also offered a job service. There were many middle-aged Russian women who could not learn enough English to resume their previous careers. People called us requesting babysitters for their children, and we sent them these Russian ladies. The children they sat for, mostly from religious young families, spoke Yiddish, and now they were learning to speak Russian. Many of the Russian babysitters remained good friends with the families they had serviced, long after they were no longer needed as babysitters. This meeting between East and West, which bonded Jews who had been isolated from each other since the rise of Communism, was taking place all over the world.

Other volunteers included Mordecai Baum, who befriended the new immigrants, and Avrohom Chesney, who served as F.R.E.E.’s bookkeeper, taking care of the finances.

With the help of Victor Root, we opened up a resale store where we sold furniture and household goods. People donated their furniture and clothes, some of which we sold for profit to fund our programs, and the rest we gave away to immigrants who needed the items. Eventually, our organization became well known throughout Chicago and attracted many volunteers.

A special woman, Marilyn Handwerker, was instrumental in getting the Hadassah Women’s Organization to collect household goods for us. She spent much of her time and energy in helping the Russian immigrants. She lived in the affluent suburb of Highland Park, Illinois, and prevailed on the people in her area to donate clothes, household items, and furniture, much of which she stored in her garage. She inspired the local synagogues to make a yearly toy drive.  Beautifully gift-wrapped, the toys were given to the Russian children for Chanukah. She would drive around with the goods she had collected, and deliver them. Once, she even received a baby grand piano and gave it to a Russian Jewish lady who was a professional pianist.

Marilyn and her husband Sy had cousins still in Russia, in Briansk. They devised an ingenious way to meet up with them. They joined a cruise, and arranged to meet the cousins at one of the checkpoint docks, where the ship would stay for several hours. Six busses came to the dock to pick up the tourists. As each bus arrived, the tour guide called out: “Are Marilyn and Sy Handwerker on this bus?” Finally, Marilyn and Sy were found on the sixth bus, and thus the cousins were able to meet. All the people on the bus applauded as they witnessed the meeting of the cousins.

Once, a Russian immigrant woman appeared in my office looking for me. She had a piece of paper with the names Sy and Marilyn Handwerker written on it. When I addressed her in Yiddish she was so excited; she hadn’t spoken Yiddish in fifty years! She was trying to find her relative, Sy Handwerker. I was happy to bring them together. This woman had been a judge in Russia. It was surprising that she identified as a Jew, as anyone with a high position in Russia would usually hide his or her Jewishness.

Another incident that comes to mind involves a professor who had worked in Washington for the government, and then came to live in Chicago. One Shabbat he came to the B’nei Reuven synagogue, and happened to see that F.R.E.E. had arranged a bar mitzvah for a Russian boy. The professor was so impressed with our work that he called me after Shabbat and said he would like to host a Russian family for a Shabbat meal. I gave him a family’s phone number, and a grandmother and granddaughter came to him for Shabbat lunch. The professor was very emotional when he called me afterwards. “Do you know whom you sent me?! Do you know WHOM you sent me?!” It turned out that they shared relatives; the professor’s first wife (she had passed away and he had remarried) had been related to the guests!

The story of one particular Russian immigrant stands out in my mind. This was a girl who was originally assumed not to be Jewish. At the beginning of our work with the Russians, most of the children were enrolled in the Jewish day schools. Every day as I drove my kids to school, I would see Inna walking to public school, and wondered why she hadn’t been placed in any of the day schools. I made a call to Rabbi Isaac Mahevsky from the Associated Talmud Torahs who was responsible for enrolling the immigrant kids into the Jewish schools and asked what the story was. He said that they had discovered she was not Jewish.

free-123016-tallis-chuppahI can’t explain it, but somehow I felt that this girl did indeed belong in a Torah-true Jewish school. This feeling didn’t let me rest; it kept gnawing at me. Eventually, I found out that it was Inna’s grandfather, her mother’s father, who was not Jewish. With this discovery, we offered Inna a paid position to become a junior counselor in Gan Yisroel girls’ camp. She had no idea that we were the ones who supplied the salary. Her mother had passed away, and her father had remarried. We persuaded her to study in high school in New York, and offered to pay for it. It took time for her to adjust to Crown Heights. Soon after she arrived, she sent me a letter in which she wrote: “You sent me to Jew town.”  The Kotlarsky family opened their home and their hearts to Chana, as they now called her. Eventually, she settled in well and was happy to be in Crown Heights. Inna went on to marry a Lubavitcher chassid and has raised a beautiful chassidishe family.

Reitza Kosofsky

Friends Of Refugees Of Eastern Europe In Chicago (Part II)

Monday, December 26th, 2016

Last week we focused on how F.R.E.E. began the process of educating the refugees it came into contact with. However, the people at F.R.E.E. set about making life more fulfilling for the refugees, in many other ways as well.

 

Part II

Many of the Russian immigrant men and boys were anxious to undergo circumcision. It was amazing to witness this after so many years of the religious suppression that existed under Communist rule. At first, F.R.E.E. undertook the responsibility to arrange circumcisions. Over a period of forty years, hundreds of men and boys underwent kosher circumcisions. At first, Rabbi Avrohom Chesney of F.R.E.E. arranged and supervised them. Later, Rabbi Naftali Hershcowitz, under the supervision of Rabbi Shmuel Notik, took over. The doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago (a Jewish Federation institution), together with the noted mohel, Rev. Noah Wolff, performed the circumcisions. Chicago was unique in that its federation funded the Brit Milah program, while in other cities F.R.E.E. had to pay for it on its own. As more immigrants arrived, other mohelim and religious doctors joined the team, among them Rabbi Mordechai Turkeltaub and Rabbi Moshe Kushner. The observant doctors and mohelim worked efficiently, on a few patients each time. Dr. Philip Zeret, head of surgery at Mt. Sinai, and Dr. Chaim Hecht arranged the logistics.

Dr. and Mrs. Hecht were very involved with welcoming the Russian teenagers in general and introducing them to the warmth of their Shabbat table. They also opened their home to Rabbi Betzalel Shiff, his wife Mira, and their son Yossi, who came from Israel to work for the organization. Dr. Hecht was instrumental in bringing Rabbi Shmuel and Shterna Notik to Chicago to take over the directorship when the organization began expanding.

At one point, we notified the Lubavitcher Rebbe that many Russian refugees had to wait for their circumcisions to take place. On Erev Yom Kippur before Mincha, Rabbi Hadokov called us with an answer. He said that he had received instructions from the Rebbe to tell us not to let the immigrants wait. Thus, several times we arranged to use the hospital for an entire day, enabling as many as twenty or more circumcisions to be performed.

Mottel Kanelsky, himself an immigrant from a Lubavitcher family, was instructed by the Rebbe to arrange circumcisions as quickly as possible. Who would have thought that after just a few years F.R.E.E. would be given the responsibility for carrying out thousands of circumcisions of men and boys of every age?

When Russia began allowing Jews to leave, the American Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund made an agreement with the U.S. government that the latter would grant financial help for resettlement. In each city the Jewish Federation provided Russian-speaking social workers to aid the incoming immigrants. They also provided money and direction.

At first, the Jewish Federation of Chicago suggested that F.R.E.E. was duplicating its work and that we should close shop. Martha Binn, our representative to the Federation, succeeded in convincing it that we were not competing with their services, but rather complimenting them. Her confident demeanor and professional approach gave weight to her request that the Federation recognize and acknowledge the work of the religious organizations and give them their support.

Martha also did fundraising for our cause. She made call after call, not getting discouraged by nasty comments like: “What? It’s you again?” I would often consult with Martha; I would call her “my lawyer.” She would point out issues and analyze possibilities from a different vantage point. She was dedicated to our cause, passing up lucrative job offers to stay with the organization.

Once we asked Rabbi Oscar Fasman, president of the Hebrew Theological College of Chicago (aka Skokie Yeshiva), to accompany us to a meeting with the Federation to lend prestige to our organization. He told the members of the Federation committee that our work deserves its support. The impact of his words bore fruit and funding was increased. When F.R.E.E. opened a school on the premises of the Machziki Hadas Synagogue, it prompted the Federation to open a proper school as well.

Rabbi Shmuel Notik

Rabbi Shmuel Notik

Eventually, the Federation began receiving good reports from the immigrants themselves, after which they started working together with F.R.E.E. to the benefit of all. This was the beginning of a warmer rapport between the Federation and the Orthodox community, and a new era of cooperation between the general Jewish community and the religious community which continues to this day.

One Shabbat, as I was reading an article in the weekly Jewish journal, the Sentinel, written by Boris Smolar, the head of the JTA, I found myself reading my own words! Smolar was commending the Federation for all it was were doing for the Russian immigrants, such as arranging circumcisions, funding day camp and English lessons, providing vocational guidance services, etc. Half the article was copied from a grant proposal I had written to the Federation requesting funding for these programs. Mr. Smolar didn’t realize that a nursing mother was running these activities!

Many of the refugees were broken and nervous, since they had to leave everything behind and begin life anew. Many of them were highly educated in their fields, but found it hard to get jobs in America. Many who wanted to learn English turned to us. The local city colleges provided us with a program to teach English as a second language (ESL). Not only were the classes free of charge – students even received a stipend. Our offices were filled with people eager to learn. In addition to learning English, the students would hear short talks on Jewish topics, upcoming Jewish holidays and the like.

With the help of another government incentive, we organized a summer school for older teenagers who were interested in learning the Hebrew language. Chava Cooperman, daughter of Rabbi Yitzchak Zilber and daughter-in-law of Rav Yehuda Cooperman (the founder of Michlala Jewish College for Women), taught these young people to read and write Hebrew. These programs and government grants always became available just at the right times. I really felt that Divine Guidance was helping us every step of the way.

As the refugee population grew, we realized that we could reach more people through a Russian-language newspaper. Chuck Novak helped put together the first few issues of “Gazzette Sholom” which is still being published forty years later. Each issue is eagerly awaited by Russian-speaking Jews around the U.S. The newspaper benefited greatly when the Russian-born Lubavitch couple, Rabbi Betzalel and Mira Schiff, joined our organization. Betzalel became editor of the newspaper, organized concerts and Yom Tov celebrations, started a Russian-language radio program, and helped fundraise. He was like a father to the Russian Jews, and he and his wife dedicated themselves day and night to bring awareness of what it means to be Jewish to people who had grown up under the influence of communist propaganda. Although Betzalel was young, he was well-respected. After a few years, he and his wife returned to Israel, where he continued to work with Russian Jews.

We organized and ran a day camp for the immigrant children, in collaboration with Chabad Gan Yisroel. Most campers paid very little or went for free. Nowadays, when my son meets up with Russian Jews who grew up in Chicago, my son will say, “I bet you went to my mother’s camp.” They often did. One year, I managed to raise a substantial amount of money (I used to sit in my backyard with my baby and fundraise by phone), so I decided to send some Russian kids to overnight camp in Parksville, New York.  We sent them by car, a fifteen-hour drive. It didn’t quite work out. The boys complained to their parents that they were homesick, so I had to fly them all back to Chicago early. That was the end of that experiment.

To be continued…

Reitza Kosofsky

Exhibition: The Jewish Ghetto in Postcards from Eastern Europe to Downtown Manhattan

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

From 1880 to 1924, one-third of the Jewish population of Eastern Europe left shtetls and cities for the United States, fleeing persecution and seeking economic opportunity. Most settled on the Lower East Side making it the most crowded neighborhood in the world. On these shores, Jewish immigrants found themselves in a new kind of densely urban neighborhood. Still, echoes of the old country could be found in the cries of the marketplace, the plaintive tunes of the synagogue, and most of all in the shared Yiddish language of neighbors.

The Blavatnik Archive and the Museum at Eldridge Street “The Jewish Ghetto in Postcards” exhibition, through March 8, 2017, presents rarely seen images of shtetls in Europe that were wiped out during the Holocaust, and the “Ghetto” of the old Jewish Lower East Side. In captivating color and stark black and white, these vintage postcards provide snapshots of vanished places that are at the heart of the twentieth-century Jewish experience.

People of the Jewish shtetl Racionz, near the more densely populated Mława. Message dated June 23, 1915.

People of the Jewish shtetl Racionz, near the more densely populated Mława. Message dated June 23, 1915.

These early twentieth-century postcards provide important historical perspective of the immigrant experience in America. In captivating color and stark black and white, they recall vanished places that are at the heart of the Jewish immigrant experience. They also suggest how cultural conceptions and types were disseminated in popular culture.

The Jewish Ghetto in Postcards features fifty postcard images, interpretive texts, oral histories, and a digital component that allows visitors to enlarge and examine the postcards and historic materials.

The bulk of the exhibition features images of New York’s Lower East Side, long an immigrant gateway. Images of bustling streets with pushcarts and horse-drawn carriages, a pickle vendor, and a surprisingly beautiful view of tenements with laundry suspended from one tenement to the next recall a by-gone era.

The Lower East Side is described on both the front and back of postcards as “The Ghetto” or “Judea.” During the first decades of the 20th century, the term “the Ghetto” was understood as the place where the Jews lived in New York City. The postcards were collected in albums, sent as a memento from travels, or – as indicated by a message scrawled on one of the featured images – mailed by Progressive-era teachers and workers who wanted to show the atmosphere of the neighborhood where they worked.

The postcards of Eastern Europe depict men with long beards, wooden homes along unpaved streets, and other stereotypical scenes of the shtetl, with captions printed on the cards describing them as “Jewish Types” and the “Jewish Quarter.” Some of these images are snapshots taken by passing soldiers during World War I who were struck by the exotic looking community they encountered.

The Museum at Eldridge Street, 12 Eldridge Street, New York, NY 10002, is open Sunday through Thursday from 10 AM to 5 PM and Friday from 10 AM to 3 PM. Admission is $14 adults; $10 students and seniors, $8 children 5-17; free for children under 5 years of age. Mondays are Pay What You Wish. Entrance to the Jewish Ghetto in Postcards is included with Museum admission. For more information, visit eldridgestreet.org or call 212-219-0302 / 212.219.0888. Please check the Museum’s website for holiday closings including New Year’s Day.

The caption on this postcard reads "New Jewish Market on the East Side, New York."

The caption on this postcard reads “New Jewish Market on the East Side, New York.”

JNi.Media

ISIS Claims Responsibility for Berlin Truck Terror Attack at Christmas Market

Monday, December 19th, 2016

The Islamic State terrorist organization has claimed responsibility for the truck-ramming attack on a crowded Christmas market in west Berlin on Monday evening.

The heavy truck with a Polish license plate rammed into crowds of shoppers at 40 miles per hour, tearing through stalls filled with food and drink and holiday gifts for sale. The attack was horrifyingly similar in style to the terrorist attack in the southern French city of Nice this past July.

At least nine people were killed, with conflicting reports on the number of injured at the outdoor market near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church at Breitscheidplatz Square.

Police labeled the incident a terrorist attack, European media reported. The driver of the truck was arrested after trying to flee. A passenger who had been in the cab of the truck died on the ground at the scene. Berlin police said they believe the truck drove 50 to 80 meters (54 to 87 yards) through the market before coming to a stop.

Berlin police also are urging locals to stay home tonight, as is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who — setting the example — says she is “mourning the dead.”

The Polish firm which lets out the truck reports it has not been able to contact the original driver, a Polish national, since 4 pm Monday, just a few hours before the attack.

The attack took place one hour after the assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov, 62, by an off-duty Turkish police officer.

The killer pumped at least five bullets into the diplomat while yelling, ‘Allahu Akbar!’ (God is Great, in Arabic), and ‘Don’t forget Aleppo!’ Unconfirmed reports said the assassin was a member of the diplomat’s own security detail in Ankara.

Last month the U.S. State Department issued a warning to Americans in Europe, of a “heightened risk of terrorist attacks throughout Europe, particularly during the holiday season.

“U.S. citizens should exercise caution at holiday festivals, events, and outdoor markets,” the alert read.

“Credible information indicates the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh), Al-Qaeda, and their affiliates continue to plan terrorist attacks in Europe, with a focus on the upcoming holiday season and associated events,” it continued.

“U.S. citizens should also be alert to the possibility that extremist sympathizers or self-radicalized extremists may conduct attacks during this period with little or no warning. Terrorists may employ a wide variety of tactics, using both conventional and non-conventional weapons and targeting both official and private interests.

Americans were warned to “exercise vigilance when attending large holiday events, visiting tourist sites, using public transportation, and frequenting places of worship, restaurants, hotels, etc. Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds, when possible.”

Hana Levi Julian

Friends of Refugees Of Eastern Europe In Chicago (Part I)

Monday, December 19th, 2016

Presented here is a short history of the beginning of the F.R.E.E. organization in Chicago. F.R.E.E. is affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch network, and deals with the resettlement of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

This account was written by Reitza Kosofsky, the initiator and main activist of F.R.E.E. in Chicago, who found herself becoming deeply involved in the historic challenge facing the Jews of the free world at that time: reclaiming the Jewishness of those Jews exiting Russia. Covered is the period from 1973 until 1981, at which time Rabbi Shmuel Notik arrived and took over the directorship.

 

Mrs. Reitza Kosofsky

Mrs. Reitza Kosofsky

For much of the past century, freedom was a distant dream for Jews living in the Soviet Union and its satellites. In the early ‘70s, the Iron Curtain lifted, and a significant number of families were given permission to leave.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, spoke publicly about the influx of Soviet Jewish refugees, and the importance of helping them with their spiritual and material needs. The Rebbe’s words were heard in Chicago, and the women of N’shei Chabad under the leadership of Rebbitzen Chaya Sarah Hecht, the head shlucha, made a welcoming gathering for five families who had just arrived from Minsk. The American women presented the Russian women with silver candlesticks and encouraged them to light them for Shabbat. Rabbi Tzvi Shusterman delivered a talk in Yiddish, as that was the only common language shared by most of the participants.

After that gathering, Rebbitzen Hecht contacted the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Chaim Mordecai Aizik Hadokov, and asked how to proceed. Should N’shei Chabad or another already existing organization work with the Russian Jews? The Rebbe’s answer was clear: a new organization should be created to service the needs of the new immigrants.

At the time, I was a stay-at-home mother of a growing family. I had a nursing infant, and had just married off our eldest daughter to a Russian-born Lubavitcher. I was inspired by the Rebbe’s call to action. Because I spoke Yiddish, it was only natural for me to become involved with the Russian Jews who were settling in Chicago.

On our next trip to Crown Heights, I went to see the newly opened synagogue and center for Russian immigrants. The name F.R.E.E., which stands for “Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe,” was chosen by the Rebbe. I met with the founders of the center, brothers Meir and Hershel Okunov, who gave me permission to use the same name for our work in Chicago. Meir, who would be celebrating his wedding two weeks later, joined my family for the 15-hour drive from New York to Chicago in order to help us get started. He told me how to introduce the basics of Jewish life to Jews who had grown up in an atheistic environment.

We started out small, but as the trickle of immigrants grew to become a tidal wave, F.R.E.E. also grew and expanded. That first year we made a Chanukah party in the home of Victor and Rita Katz. By the following Chanukah, we had to rent a hall! We organized communal Pesach sedarim led by Chabad yeshiva students. Most of these young men had grown up religious in the Soviet Union, learning Torah and keeping mitzvot despite the danger of being arrested. Now, they turned their selfless devotion for Yiddishkeit towards running sedarim for others, giving up their opportunity to spend the Passover holidays in New York with the Rebbe.free-121616-hebrew-school-class

It was the second year of my involvement with the Russian Jews, in 5734 (1974), a few weeks before Pesach. I was sitting in my car on Devon Avenue, and my kids had gone into the kosher candy store. I was contemplating and worrying about the communal Pesach seder. The year before, about 175 immigrants had participated and now I had 300 newly arrived Russian Jews eager to experience their first seder in freedom. How would I manage it? At that point, a former neighbor passed by, stopped and asked me how I was.

I could have sufficed with the usual “Fine, Baruch Hashem” but instead I blurted out, “I’m running a seder for 300 Russian Jews, and I have no funds for it. How can we make a seder without food?!”

The man hesitated for a minute, and then exclaimed, “I will help you!” It turned out that he, Tzvi Kurs, was the president of the Chicago Maos Chitim Committee. Every year the committee would distribute 1,500 boxes of matzah, wine, chicken, gefilte fish, and other seder items and necessities for Pesach to families in need. From that year on, the Maos Chitim Committee provided for the communal sedarim. Working together with the committee, we set up a system by which families would be interviewed by volunteers from their own community to determine the extent of their Pesach needs.

There was a flood of immigration when the U.S.S.R. began letting Jews out, and the friendship and help for the Russian Jews who came to our city began to fall on my shoulders. When I had originally taken on this project, I thought that only a few families would be arriving in Chicago; however, they came in droves!

In the beginning, I handled all the F.R.E.E. work from my kitchen. I would hold my baby in one hand and the frying pan in the other, balancing a telephone on my shoulder, helping people from my kitchen “office.” One day, I got a call from Joseph Zaretsky, an officer of Congregation Bais Medresh HaGadol Keser Mariv. He offered us the use of the vacant classrooms in the Hebrew school at the back of the synagogue free of charge. With the new place, we were able to begin the formation of a working organization.

We continuously saw how the Almighty blessed our efforts. Someone taught me how to apply for the first $5000 grant that I got. In addition, CETA, a government program that was created to train the unemployed really helped. Through it, we were able to take on eighteen trainee office workers. Through this program, we were able to employ people who otherwise may have had difficulty in finding suitable work.

Former students of the Hebrew School

Former students of the Hebrew School

Marvin Schreiber was an expert in preparing grant proposals. His hard work paid off, and we received grants. We then were able to have a secretary, run a domestic job service, and hire a driver to transport Russian immigrant children to the Jewish day schools. We arranged for people who spoke Russian to tutor the children, especially in the Hebrew language and Jewish/religious subjects.

A friend who was a public school teacher, Abe Wolburg, told us that the Jewish Federation social workers were enrolling the Jewish immigrant children in the neighboring public schools. We asked Rabbi Hodakov how necessary it was to enroll the children in Jewish schools. The answer: as important as saving lives.

We immediately let the Russian Jewish community know that we would provide a day school education for their children. It was really hard to get the Russian kids into the existing Jewish schools because they would accept only a few new kids at a time. So we opened our own school in our office with thirty children! We had two talented teachers, one for Jewish studies and one for secular, both with the same name, Miriam Rabinowitz. The school lasted for twenty years. Those children who didn’t come to this school were persuaded to enroll in the Jewish Community Center Sunday School, so at least they would receive some level of Jewish education.

Reitza Kosofsky

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/features/features-on-jewish-world/friends-of-refugees-of-eastern-europe-in-chicago-part-i/2016/12/19/

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