7 Facts about Jewish Life in Russia Today

Przyslala Ala Elczewska

1. Renaissance

Brandeis University Professor Jonathan Sarna recalls visiting Russia in 1986 when Jewish education and practice was brutally suppressed. “Whatever Jewish life existed in Moscow transpired underground. The teaching of Hebrew was illegal, most Jewish gatherings were banned, the Choral Synagogue (the only synagogue allowed to operate in Moscow) was filled with spies and the most conscious of the city’s Jews were the refuseniks who sought to leave Mother Russia forever.”

Choral Synagogue, Moscow

In contrast, Prof. Sarna, notes, “Nowadays, Jewish activities take place in public all around Moscow.” Today at least four Jewish schools in Moscow teach a range of religious and secular subjects, including Hebrew. Even Moscow State University has a department of Jewish studies. Instead of one synagogue, Moscow today is home to about 20 synagogues. The iconic Choral Synagogue has been refurbished and attracts scores of worshippers each Shabbat.

In St. Petersburg, Jewish life has been revived as well: synagogues, a Jewish Community Center, schools, a Hillel and senior center all educate St. Petersburg’s Jews. In a city that before 1917 banned Jewish residency, public Shabbat dinners now draw crowds of Jews.

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