From Yekaterinburg to Siberia, and from Siberia to Belarus, Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar brought a message of encouragement and warmth to the local Jews on a whirlwind three day trip.
In midst of the holiday of Chanukah, one of the busiest times of the year for any rabbi, Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar took a break. Its purpose was not to rest, but to pause his regular programming to visit three major Jewish communities across the country.
Rabbi Lazar flew to each location to join the Chanukah events organized by the local shluchim and to visit the schools and educational institutes to personally witness their development and growth.
The first stop was the city of Yekaterinburg, capital of the Ural region in Russia. Rabbi Lazar’s visit began with the lighting of the menorah and a Torah address at the grand Chanukah event organized by shliach Rabbi Zelig Ashkenazi.
Over 6,000 participants braved the frigid weather, over 30 degrees below zero, to attend the event. Throughout the evening, young shliach Moishy Ashkenazi moved the audience with his rendition of Haneiros Halalu and chassidishe niggunim. Yevgeny Kuyvashev, Governor of Sverdlovsk Oblast, was honored with lighting the shamash candle, and followed with a warm speech with blessings and thanks to the Jewish community. The mayor of Yekaterinburg, Alexey Orlov, also spoke.
After davening in the central shul in the center of the city, Rabbi Lazar a visit to the beautiful ‘Ohr Avner Chabad’ school together with Rabbi Dovid Mondshine, Chairman of the Or Avner Foundation, who accompanied him on the entire trip. The two then continued to their next destination: Novosibirsk in Siberia, to warm the city up with the light of Chanukah.
The highlight of the visit was getting to see first-hand the unique ‘Lev’ program. Created with the goal to integrate special children with other children their age in informal activities, ‘Lev’ was founded about six months ago in the “Or Avner Chabad” school in Novosibirsk. Although the program was only created a short while ago, it already made waves in the city. The project’s innovation and uniqueness brought it to the attention of the local authorities and the education system who awarded its founder Rabbi Shneur Zalman Zaklos as ‘Man of the Year in Novosibirsk, causing a great Kiddush Hashem.
When Rabbi Lazar arrived at the school, the students enthusiastically welcomed him with a joyous song. He held a meeting with a number of the students’ parents, including some who themselves has studied in the school as youngsters. He then toured the classrooms and tested the children on Hilchos Chanukah, and was impressed by their vast knowledge. During the Chanukah party and Menorah lighting which followed, each student received Chanukah gelt.
At the conclusion of the event, the entire student and staff body gathered in the school’s courtyard, where a 3-meter menorah had been carved out of ice. Rabbi Lazar was honored to light the candles in the ice menorah, after which he continued to the Beis Menachem shul and community center. There, a Chanukah event for the supporters of the community awaited.
In the evening, a large Chanukah event took place in Novosibirsk’s central opera , with many hundreds of Jews attending. The local school children headlined the event, entertaining the crowd with Jewish and Chassidic songs. At the conclusion of the event, the crowd gathered in the city’s central square in front of the opera, to light the Menorah and dance to live music at temperatures of 40 below zero!
The third stop was in the city of Mogilev in Belarus, to visit the Jewish Center and the large school in the center of the city, which is in the final stages of construction. After the Chief Rabbi was honored to place a mezuzah at the main entrance, a tour was led by the rabbi of the city, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Alperovitz.
At a Chanukah party with the governors and supporters of the city later that day, deep appreciation was expressed to the governor Mr. The chief rabbi’s visit to these cities left a strong impression on the Jews of the cities, who saw and experienced that even in the frost of Siberia and elsewhere – a great flame of Jewish pride has been ignited by the Rebbe’s shluchim.