100 Russian Shluchim Gather Where Nazis Once Reigned

86 years after the Nazis set the Great Synagogue of Kaliningrad ablaze, 100 Russian shluchim gathered in the Russian enclave between Lithuania and Poland for a weekend of unity and inspiration.

One hundred shluchim and rabbis from across Russia gathered for an uplifting Shabbos in the historic city of Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave situated between Lithuania and Poland.

Eighty-six years ago, the Nazis ym”s shattered the windows of the Great Synagogue of Kaliningrad and set the magnificent building ablaze. This weekend, the city witnessed the ultimate victory over the murderers in a scene of Jewish pride the likes of which the city’s Jews have not witnessed in a long time.

The arrival of about 100 city rabbis from across Russia brought a festive atmosphere to all the residents of Kaliningrad, also known by its German name Konigsberg. The city is situated in the heart of Europe, forming a large Russian enclave alongside Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus, on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Rivers flow through the large city and surround the many towns and villages scattered throughout the region, home to over a million residents, serving as one of the largest and foremost tourist attractions in Russia.

The weekend-long gathering kicked off with the inauguration of the mikvah located in the basement of the recently restored shul building. The shul was restored with cooperation with the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia and philanthropist Mr. Vladimir Katzman, who also took it upon himself to build one of the mikvahs, the construction of which was completed a week ago. At the opening ceremony, he was presented with a special gift – an ornate plaque featuring a dollar from the holy hands of the Rebbe, in appreciation and honor of his many efforts towards the revival of the Jewish community in Kaliningrad, whose glorious past is etched in the annals of Jewish history.

The keynote address was delivered by Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar, who expounded on the great zechus of increasing taharah. He also urged all local Jews and Jewish tourists from across Russia to frequent the shul, participate in Torah classes, and take part in the many activities hosted in the shul for all ages.

At the moving event, attended by many community members, supporters, and important friends, Kaliningrad Shliach Rabbi Avraham Boruch Deutsch described the process of building the mikvah. He told of some of the complex halachic deliberations that were resolved during the Chief Rabbi’s visit some three years ago, followed by ongoing halachic guidance from the Secretary of the Chief Rabbinate of Russia, Rabbi Zalman Shimon Deren.

Rabbi Deutsch expressed the community’s gratitude to the philanthropists Mr. Katzman, Mr. David Aminov, Rabbi Yehudah Davidov, Mr. Dan Chernik, the Kollel Iyun Halacha in the Ganei Geula neighborhood of Yerushalayim, headed by its Rosh Kollel, Harav Eliezer Eichenshtein, the Rabbinical Center of Europe, and many other individuals and friends who contributed their funds towards the noble goal of bringing taharahi back to Kaliningrad after nearly a century since the last mikvah was destroyed.

Next to offer remarks was President of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia, Rabbi Alexander Boroda, whose efforts have been instrumental in the revival of the Kaliningrad community and in providing immense assistance to communities across Russia. Rabbi Deutsch then honored the city’s Rabbi, Rabbi David Shvedik, and Mr. Katzman to deliver remarks and cut the ribbon. The crowd was then invited to join as the mezuzah was affixed to the main entrance by the Chief Rabbi. They then toured the interior of the mikvah, standing in awe of the facility’s beauty, spaciousness, and meticulous adherence to halachic standards.

Following the dedication, a seudas mitzvah was held on the second floor of the shul. The crowd joined for a joyous and uplifting chassidishe farbrengen, during which community leaders and members rose one by one to express their appreciation to the Chief Rabbi for his efforts on behalf of the city’s Jews. They took special note of the community’s growth since the arrival of the shluchim who opened a Jewish kindergarten and developed the Jewish community anew, building upon the foundations laid by Rabbi Shvedik. Gratitude was also extended to philanthropist Mr. Levi Leviev and to Rabbi David Mondshine, whose “Or Avner” foundation provides the community with ample resources for Jewish education and the observance of Yom Tovim in a most elegant fashion. 

United As One:

The shluchim from around Russia who had traveled to join the annual Shabbos Achdus, some from as far as 9 hours away, then began their official program.

Starting with a tevilah in the new mikvah, they then joined a shiur in a ma’amar, delivered by the Shliach to Kazan, Rabbi Yitzchak Gorlik, in preparation for shacharis together with local residents. Seeing such a large gathering of rabbis in their city at once sparked great excitement among the local Jewish community and aroused interest among the general population, leading to prominent headlines in the local media.

At the official launch of the Shabbos Achdus, held in the Great Synagogue, Tehillim was recited for the wellbeing of our brethren in Eretz Yisroel, including the hostages and soldiers. Remarks were then delivered by the Chief Rabbi and various public figures. The region’s governor, who was unexpectedly appointed as a senior minister in Moscow by President Putin just a week earlier, sent his personal representative to welcome the rabbis and express appreciation for holding the gathering in Kaliningrad, bringing honor to this important city and fostering unity among all peoples.

After this event concluded, the local police closed off the main road to allow the shluchim to safely cross to the riverbank opposite the shul building for a group photograph, joined by heads of the Jewish community. The shluchim gathered on bleachers built specially by the local municipality, singing chassidishe niggunim as more media and hundreds of passersby and tourists gathered to photograph this unique scene. Of course, in true Chabad style, the picture culminated with joyous dancing.

Over the next hours, throughout the entire Shabbos Parshas Emor, the shluchim had a packed schedule. Shabbos began chavrusa study among all the shluchim, with each group matched up by a pre-arranged draw. The learning was followed by an uplifting kabalas Shabbos. At the festive seudas Shabbos, the shluchim heard from a number of their colleagues, who delivered insights and inspiring stories from their shlichus, emceed by shliach of Tomsk in Siberia, Rabbi Levi Kaminetsky. After the formal portion of the meal, the Chassidic farbrengen continued until the early morning hours.

The next morning, the shluchim began the day with studying Chassidus, followed by shacharis, joined by the shul’s regular congregants.

Joining the shluchim throughout the entire weekend were many young shluchim, who traveled with their fathers to join the Shabbos Achdus. The shluchim saw the weekend as a wonderful opportunity to provide their sons with a genuine chassidishe Shabbos, and the rare chance for them to mingle with chassidishe children their age.

To lead the children’s program, local shliach Rabbi Avraham Boruch Deutsch brought talmidim hashluchim Menachem Mendel Ashkenazi, Sholom Auryan and Levi Dahan, shluchim at the Cheder Menachem school in Moscow. The bochurim ran a complete program for the young shluchim, from the moment they arrived until their departure. Alongside special shiurim and lively tefillos they enjoyed tours and visits to attractions across the historic city of Kaliningrad. They also joined the tefillah of their fathers at the Ohel of Rav Yisrael Salanter, buried in the city’s ancient cemetery. It was only recently that the Ohel was built, through the efforts of his grandson, Rabbi Reuven Dessler of the USA, a friend of the local shliach and supporter of the community. 

During the children’s separate Shabbos meal, the Chief Rabbi addressed them about the responsibility of their roles and their incredible zechus, danced with them, and gave each one uplifting, personal attention.

Meanwhile, the shluchim spent Shabbos farbrenging, and at the conclusion of the seven-hour long farbrengen led by the Moscow City Shliach Rabbi Yosef Weisberg, they davened mincha, recited Pirkei Avos, and exited to the shul plaza. In the fresh, breezy air wafting from the nearby Baltic Sea, a heartwarming  “Seder Niggunim” was held, as the children concurrently gathered in the shul for a ‘Chevras Tehillim’ to recite Tehillim, Pirkei Avos, sing nigunim and hear a chassidishe story. They each received a bag of goodies that had been specially brought from Eretz Yisroel, along with books and Jewish games.

Ahead of the Chief Rabbi’s recitation of Havdalah, he expressed gratitude to all involved in preparing and organizing the Shabbos Achdus, especially to Shiach Rabbi Bentzion Lipsker of the Meromim Foundation and to the chairman of the Vaad Hakinus, Kaliningrad Shliach Rabbi Zalman Deutsch for his great dedication.

With this uplifted feeling, and after the melave malka, each shliach returned to his makom haslichus and community, some by train and others by flight, inspired and uplifted, and ready to continue their sacred work of bringing Yidden closer to our Father in Heaven.

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