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Chapter 1. Principle of "universality". About work of Community “Shalom”,

Principle of "universality". About work of Community “Shalom”,

by Edward Alexeev.

The description of work of small Jewish community “Shalom”, the town of Borovichy, Novgorod Region, and of the cultural-educational Center “Haverim” created in the Community demonstrates the main Know How which permits to involve practically all Jews of the town into the life of Community. This Know How may be called perhaps “the principle of universality” – Community meets any demands of Jewish population: those ones who need assistance, those ones who just want human intercourse or organized hobby classes for their children – they come to the Community, those ones who want to create Alia, to study Hebrew – they come to Community, those ones who want to pray – they also come to Community, etc.

Borovichy is a small town located in the center of the Novgorod region (North-West of Russia) just on a half way from Moscow to Sankt-Petersburg. There are 60.000 of total population, 100 Jewish families with Jewish population about 300.

In 1937, in times of Stalin’s repressions, any activity of Jewish community of town Borovichy was forbidden, the building of synagogue was confiscated by State. Jewish community was restored and was officially registered according to the Russian Law in 1992. In 1999 Administration of town Borovichy issued a decree which gave to Jewish community “Shalom” for the 50-years a free-rent building for Synagogue and for Jewish Center of general space 140 sq. m., on the address Sovet-skaya st., 25.

The Synagogue in Borovichy is not a prayer room, but it is really a new Synagogue in the classical sense, possessing a scroll of TORAH, Aron Kodesh, Bima — precious gifts from the Jewish Com-munity Temple Bet Tora of the town of Freemont, California. If you ask Jews of Borovichy about our synagogue – is it a Hasidim one, orthodox one, reformist one? – they will answer: “Our syna-gogue – for all Jews, anyone may come and pray according to the demands of his own soul”. The idea of unification, not separation, is a basic one for the life of community. The often meetings, common holidays and feasts, mutual assistance of members of community really made community “Shalom” of town Borovichy not a formal organization with its own hierarchy, but a sort of one big Jewish mishpaha with synagogue as its organizing center. Jewish community works with Jewish population of town Borovichy in different directions – from providing humanitarian aid to repre-senting interests of members of community in the court, from assistance in organizing religious ceremonies to organization of the classes and hobby groups on different interests in one or another way connected with developing of Jewish self-identification. The work of community includes many programs: Children's Program, a video-club, a library, Hebrew studies (ulpan), weekly lec-tures on Jewish traditions, a club "We Speak Yiddish" for old age people, Jewish music (there is a professional Music Ensemble).

There is library in community with about 2000 volumes on the different topics of Jewish life. Community has a computer which everybody may use any moment — Jewish children or adults come to play or work; there is a room used by Jewish families to celebrate family events, etc. And all it is free of charge. Jews in a sense "are living" in the Community. Community is opened during 24 hours (there are guards who are always at work), and everybody who wants and needs may come there.

The leadership of the community follow the firm position that community must be a sort of family, not a formal structure which mechanically realises different sponsors’ programs. Jews of Borovichy find in community the possibilities to realize their most natural demands, in particular the very simple one, although often personally vitally important, — the need for humane interesting contacts. The fact that community provides to its members such a possibilities is really an explanation why practically all active Jewish population of Borovichy participates in the life of community “Shalom”.

In 2000-2003 community “Shalom” realized following projects:

1) Project “Hesed” – providing humanitarian aid to the sick and old-aged Jews of Borovichy. They were provided with medicine, spectacles, deaf-aid, crutches, carriages for disabled etc. The Jewish religious feasts were organized in the homes of deceased Jews.

2) Project “Jews in the custody” – of providing humanitarian aid to a number of Jews who serve their sentence in the correction installations of the Novgorod Region. The Seder feasts were or-ganized in prisons, Jews-prisoners had possibility to perform religious demands, community gave them possibility to read Jewish literature and periodicals.

3) Project “Jewish lecturing” – regular lectures about Jewish traditions.

4) Religious program – regular Shabbats, Jewish feasts and holydays, Bar Mitsva, weddings and funerals according to Jewish traditions.

5) Project “Jewish music” – there is musical ensemble in the community, which study and advo-cate Jewish music. There are regular concerts in the community of Borovichy. Also musical en-semble gives concerts in the other Jewish communities of the Novgorod Region and of the North-West of Russia; there were also a free concerts for all population of the town Borovichy which always raise great interest. The main Concert-Hall of town of Borovichy with 600 seats is packed by public at these concerts of Jewish music, the scene as a rule is covered with flowers (is not it real promotion of tolerance?).

6) Project “Haverim” – Educational-cultural Center which work embraces the classes on Jewish traditions, Ulpan — Hebrew lessons are 3 times per week with about 35 pupils – adults and chil-dren (in the year 2003 teacher of Hebrew is paid by Jewish Agency), consulting on questions of Aliya, English language lessons, Club "We speak Yiddish" for old age people, "Hanterberet" amateur groups for children and adults who produce hand-made “Jewish-life” articles (commu-nity organizes their exhibitions). (The following is a Quotation from the FEOR's Annual Report "Monitoring of life of Jewish communities of Russia in 2001": "Cultural-Educational Center "Haverim" works in the community "Shalom" with children and with youth in the town of Borovichy with support of the organization "Movement without Frontiers"; regular work of Ul-pan was organized beginning from 2001", from the Journal "Lehaim", Moscow, January 2002, page 20).

7) Project: Monitoring of life of a number of small Jewish communities of Russia (fulfilled during Fall 2001 and in the beginning of 2002, and continued in Summer 2003, in partnership with “Movement without Frontiers”). Results of this limited monitoring were really depressing: there are great, although strongly unsatisfied, demands in developing of Jewish life.

The activities of Community “Shalom” is supported by American organisation Bay Area Council , by Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FEOR), by Jewish Agency (payments to teacher of Ulpan), Project “Haverim” is partly supported by Norwegian organisation “Help the Jews Home” (through “Movement without Frontiers”). Before January 2003 main sponsor of the cultural-educational programs of “Shalom” was Joint, which now unfortunately stopped its support of small Jewish communities of North-West of Russia.

Address: 25/27, Sovetskaya st., Borovichy, Novgorod Region, 174400, Russia.

Tel.: (7-8162) 138-024