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World Jewry Committee

Beth El assists
the revival of the Kostroma Community in the former Soviet Union, as part of the World Jewry committee's outreach efforts.  Our voluntary and charitable contributions have assisted this economically struggling Jewish community.  We have also assisted with the Kehilah of Bahia Blanca, Argentina.


 

Kostroma

February 2007
    We decided to visit Russia after reading the Beth El Scroll article two years ago by Vera and Ralph Deckelbaum about their trip to Kostroma. First, we had to find a Moscow-to-St. Petersburg river cruise that stopped in Kostroma. Then we had the most important part of the planning—calling Claire Marwick to tell her that we would like to spend time with the Jewish community in Kostroma.

    And so, on Thursday, June 22, carrying a large suitcase filled with items that Claire had put together for the congregants, we walked down the ship’s gangplank to find Rabbi Nison Ruppo, Dr. Michael Bhoudkin, and a wonderful translator, Alex, waiting for us. We spent the next eight hours with them, touring the synagogue, learning about the social welfare programs that are run from there, visiting the daycare/kindergarten where three five-year-olds are taught by the Rabbi’s young wife, Ilana.

    Throughout the day, the synagogue/community center was active with people of all ages.

    The synagogue is not just a religious institution (the largest attendance is at Hanukkah and Purim) but is also the center of Kostroma’s Jewish life. It is here that Dr. Bhoudkin, an anesthesiologist at the local hospital, volunteers for the Chesed Program, which is a combination of our Jewish Social Service Agency and Jewish Council for the Aging. Dr. Bhoudkin runs a Home Health Care Program for 32 adults who are unable to take care of themselves. The second floor of the synagogue houses the local Jewish Historical Museum.

    Women in the kitchen were cooking a kosher dinner to follow a performance that evening by a Jewish choral group from the nearby city of Yaroslavl. We joined people of all ages from the local Jewish community who filled the sanctuary/social hall for the concert.

    All that we saw gave us hope and excitement for what appeared to be the rebirth of a Jewish community that had been dormant during 70 years of Communist rule. When asked what message we should take home, Rabbi Nison said, “All Jews should look out for their brothers.” Thanks to Claire Marwick and all the Beth El congregants who contribute to Beth El’s Fund for World Jewry for doing just that.

    Our associated synagogue in Kostroma has a new Aron Kodesh. The project was begun by Dr. and Mrs. Arthur Becker, long-time Beth El members who earlier had traveled to Kostroma and then made a significant contribution to Rabbi Nison Ruppo when he visited Beth El in 2004.
    The Aron was designed by distinguished Russian artist sculptor and member of the community, Yosef Dashevski, who was one of our earliest contacts in Kostroma ten years ago.
    Mr. Dashevski greeted us at the ship on our second trip to Kostroma when the 200-year-old Torah (made available to us by Rabbi Berel Lazar, a chief rabbi of Russia, with renovation costs paid by Beth El) was brought from Moscow to Kostroma to be presented jointly to the congregation. He was also the Russian spokesman for the occasion.


July 2006
    The Jewish Community of Kostroma commemorated victims of Holocaust. Rabbi Nison Ruppo, the city’s Chief Rabbi and a Chabad Lubavitch emissary, lit the candles and recited a memorial prayer for this day marking the tragedy that happened to the Jewish people. Among those who joined in this event were people who personally experienced this unprecedented catastrophe.
    Iosif Muz, a World War II veteran whose relatives were killed by fascists, spoke to the participants in this gathering. Another veteran – Yefim Podoksik – delivered a speech that ended with the words “Keep alert!” so that such a disaster of humanity never again occurs. Mikhail Geidman, the Chairman of the Kostroma Jewish community, reminded attendees that such a negative wave within society begins with smaller waves. His message was clear - “Say No to Fascism.”
    Rabbi Ruppo sang “Ani Ma’amin.” The words of this song were sung by Jews as they were being sent to the gas chambers. With pain in their hearts and tears in their eyes, community members and guests joined in the singing. The ceremony also featured poems and extracts from novels dedicated to the theme of the Holocaust. “The memory of the millions of innocent victims is still alive in our hearts,” expressed Rabbi Ruppo, emphasizing the continuing importance of this memorial day in modern life.

June 2006
    Beth El sent $500 to Kostroma to assist especially needy Jewish families in the celebration of Passover.  
    In the past, boys reaching the age of adulthood traveled to Moscow to participate in a group celebration of becoming B’nai Mitzvah. Today, the event is observed in Kostroma’s own shul. The latest was a festive occasion with significant gifts: a first siddur, a book of Tehilim (Psalms), a Passover Haggadah, a mezuzah—which the honoree mounted himself— and juice and matzah for the then-approaching Passover holiday.
    During the spring break, a day camp was organized. Children enjoyed games and activities but serious programs as well to prepare them for the observance of Passover. They studied the history and laws of the holiday, helped with the cleaning of the synagogue, and participated in the search for chametz.
    New to Kostroma is an undertaking for young people (ages 18 through 28) called ‘STARS’—Student Torah Alliance for Russian Speakers. This is an educational initiative for the participants to study Jewish traditions, philosophy, and the weekly Torah portion. It is already underway in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Kiev, and Sochi.

March 2006
    On the eve of Hanukkah in Kostroma, students of the Jewish Sunday School enjoyed a festive gathering where they heard the story of Hanukkah and tried their skills at baking doughnuts. The children participated in a quiz where they could win points that could be spent in a ‘Hanukkah shop’. Each student also received a gift. Throughout the holiday, community members were able to visit an arts exhibition organized by the kids, featuring their drawings and handicrafts.  Officials also participated in the event, witnessing the Jewish concert and fireworks.  
    A broader holiday also took place for the entire Jewish community. Elderly persons active in ‘Chesed’ programs were bused to this festivity and so it was really well attended. The celebration got underway with the song “Shalom,” after which the city’s Chief Rabbi Nison Ruppo and Jewish community Mikhail Geidman extended best wishes.
    Everyone was invited to enjoy a festive meal in the Synagogue, complete with Hanukkah latkes and doughnuts. Every community member received a menorah, candles, and a brochure telling about the holiday’s history. The menorahs arrived in Kostroma thanks to a small Hanukkah wonder. Community leaders became aware of the shipment’s arrival time only after its train had already come into Kostroma. It was very difficult to find the consignment at the train station by that time, but community workers nevertheless continued searching until eventually the parcels were found.  
    Every member of the Jewish community of Kostroma, a member of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, will now be able to mark each day of the holiday by lighting Hanukkah candles in the comfort of their own homes.

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December 2005
    You’ll be glad to know that because of your contributions, Beth El was able to send $500 to Kostroma, so that the poorest of the Jewish Community were able to enjoy the 5766 High Holidays and Sukkot.  
    And because, thanks to you, we renewed the New England Journal of Medicine—read by physicians in the community—we believe that they are better equipped to treat their patients.  For the same reason we try to keep them up-to-date on the Physicians Desk Reference (PDR).  
    We hope that you feel good, too, about our continuing to send as much medicine as we can to Kostroma—through alternate means—even though, for the present we are not shipping clothing which, for years, we sent in quantity.


 

Bahia Blanca

April 2006
Todah Rabah from Bahia Blanca

    A huge “Todah Rabah and Thank you!” to the Beth El community. What a difference we made in the lives of so many of the Jews of Bahia Blanca! From the fall of 2002 until the fall of 2005, we collectively donated $28,057. These funds came from individual congregants and their family members as well as from Beth El itself and its various organizations, havurot, youth groups, and school and adult B’nai Mitzvah classes.
    The Bahia Blanca community used our funds in many creative ways. These included development of cottage industries designed to put some of their indigent members to work, housing of college-age youth, purchase of medical devices, scholarships to keep students in school, and assistance to financially needy and intellectually limited individuals to pay their rent and heating expenses.  
    This fundraising project has now been officially closed. While there are still economic problems in Argentina, the situation in the Bahia Blanca community has recently changed. As had been reported previously, the Beit Am, their community center, was sold recently for a substantial amount of money. We congratulate the leaders of this community on this sale and trust that they will use the money they received from this sale wisely. We are proud of our communal efforts to assist during the crisis these past three years. We also know that it is time to step back and let the leadership in Bahia Blanca take over using their own dollars to support their needs.
    This project could not have worked so successfully without the support of Beth El’s clergy and office staff. A special thank you to Rabbi Rudolph who supported this effort and to the entire office staff for all their help.

January 2006
    A picture is worth a thousand words, so the saying goes. How true. This picture shows the five girls from the Bahia Blanca Kehila at their November B’not Mitzvah standing under the Tallit Gadol which was designed and sewn by five Beth El women. As in the words of Psalm 90,this tallit was “established by the work of our hands.” The Beth El hands and hearts behind this tallit project belonged to Judy Goldman, Sara Greenbaum, Marilyn Hammerman, Rosita Kotelanski, and Holly Stein.  
    At the B’not Mitzvah ceremony, the Hazzan of the Kehila spoke about the spiritual and emotional connections between our two communities. He noted how touched his members were by this gesture of friendship and solidarity. The tallit, he said, “will be a legacy for their future generation of women.”
    The tallit was a tangible sign of our care and support for this Argentinian Jewish community and, as it turned out, it was delivered at a perfect time. The Beit Am, their community center, had been on the market for several years and has now been sold. The proceeds from the sale will allow the community leadership to meet the needs of their community. As a result, Beth El will no longer be accepting and forwarding donations to this community.  Thank you to everyone who contributed to this Tikkun Olam project over the past several years.

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December 2005
    The World Jewry Committee of Beth El - Bahia Blanca Subcommittee is continuing its fundraising effort to provide needed food, financial assistance, medical supplies and social support for Jews in our sister Kehila in Argentina who are in poverty or have social problems. Many members of our congregation have contributed to this effort, some more than once, and we are very grateful to them. In 5766, it is our aim for 100% of the congregation to be aware of our efforts.
    In her latest report, the Social Worker of A.I.B.B. (Asociacion Israelita de Bahia Blanca) shared stories of health-related issues that had changed people’s socioeconomic situation from being independent and middle class to dependent and in need of help for the first time in their lives. She wrote about a young couple with a baby. Both parents work and have decent salaries. However, when the man was diagnosed with chronic Crohn’s disease, his health insurance did not cover 30% of the cost of his medication. This young family rents their home and does not own any form of transportation. Still, the costs of the unpaid portion of the needed medication changed their economic situation significantly and they became a family at risk. They did not qualify for help from the Joint Distribution Committee (the Joint) because of their income, and state public hospitals will not treat them because they have “obra social,” a type of health insurance. The Bahia Blanca kehila is helping this young family to pay their rent and utilities with monies sent from Beth El. They are providing some food and clothing for the baby from donations given by local members of the community. The kehila is doing this even though this family was not previously a member. They approached the social worker for the first time and are receiving as much help and guidance as long time members because they believe that no Jew should have to stand alone in time of need.
    The second heath-related situation reported was of a 60-year-old man who had lost his vision in one eye through surgery done in a public hospital some time back. Since he was starting to lose his sight in the other eye, he needed surgery that was only available in a very specialized private eye clinic. The man had no “obra social” and the cost of the surgery was $700. The Joint gave him $300 and the Kehila, using funds sent from Beth El, gave an additional $200. The Social Worker then worked with the A.I.B.B. Board, and through their efforts, the remaining $200 was collected. The surgery was successful and the man came to the Social Worker’s office with a big smile to thank her, and through her all of us, because he was able to see again.
    Unfortunately, in Argentina the “obras sociales” do not work well and public hospitals do not have a reputation as providers of good health care. Therefore, unless people have an economic safety net to rely upon, the difference between independence and dependence on social services may lie in the diagnosis of a health issue requiring medication or a surgical procedure.  
    Beth El’s donated funds helped in both of these situations. Yet, as always, more needs exist. Won’t you consider honoring somebody or remembering a loved one by sending a contribution to World Jewry Committee - Bahia Blanca? In this way, you will form one part of an economic safety net. The recipients will be very grateful. Why not make a resolution to remember Bahia Blanca sometime this year when you give to Beth El?

November 2005
    The AIBB (Asociacion Israelita de Bahia Blanca) sent an e-mail expressing the support and concern of the Kehila for the tragic events that Katrina brought upon the people of the USA.
    Second, the Kehila is excited that several Beth El women are sewing a Tallit Gadol to be used for the first time in a Bat Mitzvah ceremony for five girls on November 19. Under this very feminine-looking Tallit Gadol, the spiritual leader, Hazzan Andres Bomse, will bless the girls. Since women still do not wear a tallit there, he hopes that this Tallit Gadol will be a step toward becoming a more “egalitarian” Kehila. This Kehila became a member of the Conservative Movement (Masorti) about a year and a half ago.
    Third, on Sept 11, AIBB celebrated its 95th year of existence with several events ranging from a video on Jewish immigration to Argentina, to remembering and honoring the leaders and members of the Kehila. The main event held at the Beth Am began by reading the congratulatory e-mail sent by the Beth El World Jewry, Bahia Blanca subcommittee, recognizing the strong relationship between our two communities.
    Finally, Rosita Kotelanski is shown in the picture visiting the Mahon, the house started by the Joint Distribution Committee for out-of-town Jewish students studying at the universities in Bahia Blanca. As they do with most projects, the Joint started this pilot with the expectation that the AIBB will maintain it. The local committee is committed to the Mahon’s survival as one way to revitalize the Kehila, which is declining like many small Jewish communities. Rosita was very impressed with both the students and the Mahon. She said she would not mind living there if she was a young university student again.
    Donations will support the Mahon as well as other social service needs of the community. Checks should be made payable to Beth El and note they are for World Jewry Committee-Bahia Blanca.

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October 2005

    As we start the new year of 5766, it is a good time to tell our new members, and to remind the rest of us, why we are engaged in helping this Jewish community in Argentina.

    Initially, Beth El’s World Jewry Committee was helping just the Jewish citizens of Kostroma, Russia. Argentina was, and had been for most of its history, a country of self-sufficient people. However, in 2001, Argentina’s economy collapsed. Regardless of whether blame lay with the policies of the International Monetary Fund or government corruption, Argentinian citizens were suddenly unable to cash their paychecks. Bank accounts were frozen, and 55 percent of the population sank into poverty. People saw no future there, especially for their children, and some emigrated. But most people stayed and suffered. The Jews were no exception.
    In addition to the economic crisis, Argentina experienced terrorism, as the US did several years later, in 2001. This terrorism was directed toward the Jewish community. The AMIA social service center in downtown Buenos Aires, capital city of Argentina, was bombed on July 18, 1994. That incident killed 85 people and injured hundreds. To this day, the case remains unsolved.
    When the economic crisis hit the Jewish community of Bahia Blanca, one congregant from our caring Beth El community volunteered to take on the responsibility of organizing awareness and help, much as others did recently to help survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Then support within Beth El for this community expanded in many creative ways and a small subcommittee was formed.
    This past year the Men’s Club chose to twin with Bahia Blanca in the World Wide Wrap, as it had done with Kostroma the previous year. The Bahia Blanca Kehila is pleased that for this program the Men’s Club received an Award of Excellence Certificate.
    Recently, some Beth El women decided to create a handmade gift of a feminine-looking Tallit Gadol. When it is finished, the Hazzan will be able to use this tallit, rather than his own, when blessing the girls at their B’not Mitzvah.
    Contributions to assist this community can be sent to Beth El, attention World Jewry Committee - Bahia Blanca. One hundred percent of the funds donated by Beth El congregants and others are used to meet the survival and social service needs of the indigent Jews.
    The Bahia Blanca community has demonstrated an amazing ability to leverage our limited donations in wonderfully creative ways. AIBB (Asociacion Israelita De Bahia Blanca) is always grateful for our assistance and wishes Beth El L’shanah Tovah Tikatevu.


Congregation Beth El is affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

 
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