Currently, the SSC is sponsoring an emergency program for the nearly 10,000 Sephardim left in the Former Soviet Union. We have opened three full time schools in Buchara, Pytagorsk and Tashkent. With a growing enrollment of over 1,000 students, our first step is to strengthen our Sephardic brethren towards traditional observance. Many of our FSU graduates are now studying in religious schools here in Israel.
When the Iron Curtain fell, many Jews remained in Russia. While Moscow and the north appeared to enjoy self-sufficient Jewish communities, their sister communities in the south, were withering away, deprived of any nurturing to the Jewish soul. Caucus and Uzbekistan, two southern regions, stood heavily populated by Sephardic Jews. For the past 70 years, with a dormant synagogue, they could barely acknowledge their heritage.
Alerted to the danger that the Jews could and would be lost without their intervention, the SSC began its involvement and sent a rabbi to Caucus and Uzbekistan to open a synagogue. In addition, SSC rabbis were dispatched to the cities of Bukhara and Pyategorsk to revive the synagogues there and jumpstart informal education programs.
Russian-speaking teachers were trained so they could impart basic Jewish values, the Hebrew alphabet and Jewish holiday information to the children. Under the aegis of Rabbis Samuel Kassin, Eliyahu Shamoula and Tuvia Kiel, the schools were extremely successful and grew into full-time Jewish day schools teaching secular studies as well.
The schools now educate more than 1,000 students in grades kindergarten through high school and all are recognized by the Board of Education in Russia. These children now begin their day with tefillah (morning prayer), receive warm kosher meals for breakfast and lunch and graduate with high school diplomas.
As a result of the strengthened Jewish identity of these communities, the rate of assimilation and intermarriage has declined dramatically.
As an outgrowth of these schools the SSC has brought 250 children from Russia to Israel. This was also a catalyst for many of their families to make aliyah.