For the majority of post-Soviet Jews, years of Communist rule sliced away any knowledge or appreciation of Jewish life, culture, and traditions. Throughout the 1990′s, as outside Jewish organizations, with much good will and funding in hand, rushed in to try and save Russian Jewry, they were met by Jews who were mostly in need, willing to participate in almost any Jewishly-themed activity for the warmth that the programs offered as well, perhaps, for the critically needed connection and even fascination with Israel and the West. Those days of mass aliyah
are now gone; with the emerging economy, opportunities abound and Jewish youth, as well as their families, are choosing to stay. With many cultural choices vying for their attention and capturing their interest, identifying programs that encourage active Jewish involvement has become a much more formidable challenge.
In the course of the past seven years, the central focus of AVI CHAI’s work in the FSU has turned to reaching out to the widest and most diverse Jewish audience, which represents the overwhelming majority of post-Soviet Jewry. By extending beyond conventional Jewish establishment activities, we have identified what may be a golden opportunity to reach those whom AVI CHAI Trustee Avital Darmon calls “the students of physics” – young, well educated Jews who rarely, if ever, participate in organized Jewish activity, and for whom the term “hidden Jews” is perhaps most applicable. These programs, all led by local Jewish leadership, are unique in Russia, paving the path to what we hope will be a model that can be strengthened and expanded in years to come.