The IMPJ’s Jewish Renewal efforts for Russian-speaking communities in Israel strive to connect this vast yet distinctive population to progressive spiritual Judaism through Jewish pluralistic practice, education and community-based Jewish experience, while taking into account their particular needs, history, and culture.
CHALLENGES TO RUSSIAN-SPEAKING IMMIGRANTS TO ISRAEL
As Israel recognizes Judaism only through a strict Orthodox halachic lens, many FSU Olim’s Judaism is questioned due to lack of documentation as to the Judaism of one of their parents, meaning that they are not eligible to receive religious services because their Jewishness is not recognized by the State of Israel, which operates according to Orthodox Jewish norms in matters of religious status.
Moreover, following decades of anti-Semitism and prohibited Jewish practice, Olim (even those who are recognized as Jews) are often very disconnected from Jewish life; the majority would not have been able to practice basic Jewish tradition in their own homes. Thus, these Russian-speaking Israelis greatly desire becoming part of the Jewish people and wish to renew their Jewish identity without compromising their history, values and belief system.
Another major development in 2021 was the Supreme Court’s ruling on recognition of Reform and Conservative conversion, which has increased the traffic to our Russian-speakers programs, especially Bet Midrash and Jewish education. This has led to a higher participant rate in our general community activities for FSU Olim as well, as increasing numbers choose Jewish engagement via the IMPJ.
TO BE SPIRITUALLY AND CULTURALLY JEWISH IN ISRAEL
The Israel Reform Movement’s programs operate in three Russian-speaking congregational community centers in the northern, central and southern regions of Israel, as well as other smaller groups through our congregations: Shirat HaYam in the Haifa area, Shirat HaGan in central city of Ramat Gan, and new community Shirat HaBe’er in Be’er Sheva.
Our programs include:
Family Congregational Services and Events – ongoing regular services, Jewish practice in each congregation on a weekly basis, community and family events around the Jewish calendar, ongoing contact with the congregational Rabbi, Kiddush and holiday events all take place in the congregational building in native Russian, or online live via social media and zoom.
Beit Midrash Study Program – Education and Jewish knowledge via study of texts from sacred sources in native Russian. This includes a discussion on the Parsha with a pluralistic interpretation on a weekly basis; up to focused seminars and lectures of a higher level designed to help Russian-speakers strengthen their Jewish identity and augment Jewish engagement.
Young Adult Leadership Program – Developing seminars for young Russian speaking Israelis (new and veteran immigrants), reconnecting them to their Jewish roots combined with leadership development skills and site visits to places of historical significance throughout the country. Three weekend seminars will take place over the course of the year in different locations across the country. The purpose of these seminars is to develop leadership skills among Russian-speaking Israelis, within a Jewish pluralistic framework.
New Congregation Initiative – Be’er Sheva. As in previous years, IMPJ is looking to establish new lay leaders for Russian speaking communities,based on activists who have participated in the programs described above over the past few years, as well as recognizing areas with a specific need for a Russian-speaking congregation. Shirat HaBe’er in Be’er Sheva offers Jewish education classes to Olim from the FSU, and some services online. We hope to see this congregation grow steadily as increasing numbers of Russian-speakers in the Negev area learn about this unique community.