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Worldwide Friends of Shvut Ami Aims to Raise $50k in 24-Hour Campaign

Bergenfield—Beginning Monday, December 28, at 12 p.m., Worldwide Friends of Shvut Ami will attempt to raise $50,000 to support their Israel-based programs in a 24-hour “all or nothing” online campaign. Due to the generosity of three matching sponsors, every dollar donated will be quadrupled! For example, $25 will become $100 and $180 will turn into $720. However, if the goal of $50,000 is not reached by midday on Tuesday, then all gifts will be returned.

This exciting campaign, in association with Charidy.com, will raise awareness of Shvut Ami’s mission—to educate and inspire unaffiliated Russian Jews and to reconnect them to Jewish life.

The internationally renowned rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, who has made no secret of his frequent visits to different Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union (FSU) over many years, was asked in a newspaper interview several years ago why he devotes so much time and energy to reaching out to and inspiring Russian Jews in particular.

“We have a special obligation to the Yidden from the former Soviet Union,” he said. “I am often asked—‘Is there not enough kiruv rechokim (outreach) to be done here in America that we must travel all the way to Russia to help bring Yiddishkeit to the Yidden there?’ I always answer that there is a fundamental difference between the Yidden from the FSU and American Jews. Yidden from the FSU were forcibly stripped of their Yiddishkeit. They were not given a chance…Yidden from the FSU never had the opportunity to practice Yiddishkeit—it was taken from them. Certainly we must reach out to our brethren in America. Nevertheless, we have a special responsibility to those in the former Soviet Union. They are crying for help. Yiddishkeit was snatched from them and now they want it back…”

Shvut Ami was co-founded by Shimon Grilius, who had been arrested by the KGB in 1969 for “Zionist activities” and for distributing anti-communist literature. He was sentenced to five years in a forced-labor prison camp close to Siberia. Yet, amidst the torturous conditions, he never gave up hope. The Jewish prisoners met in each other’s barracks to talk and to share their dreams, and for Grilius, that dream was to establish a center for Russian Jews in Jerusalem.

Initially, the purpose of Shvut Ami was to help Soviet Jews who had just arrived in Israel to learn more about their heritage and integrate into Israeli society. Shvut Ami set up educational centers around the country and continues, to this day, to service thousands of Russian olim each year.

But, as the Russian exodus to Israel slowed down, Shvut Ami started to branch out. Shvut Ami trained and placed over 160 rabbis and master teachers in Jewish communities around the world. In Germany, Shvut Ami’s emissary has brought traditional Jewish practices back to thousands of Russians and, in the FSU itself, Shvut Ami’s graduates are educating and inspiring over 20,000 Jews per year in 18 cities and six countries.

Shvut Ami’s work is indeed essential, as it is a tragic fact that at least eight out of every 10 Jews in the FSU are marrying out. In a recent conversation with Natan Sharansky,Chairman of the Executive – The Jewish Agency for Israel, regarding this high level of intermarriage, he pointed out that he believes that this number essentially applies to the smaller cities where it has been easier to preserve Jewish tradition somewhat, but in the larger cities, e.g., Moscow, the number is most likely higher! Shvut Ami is at the forefront of providing pro-active solutions to what is arguably one of the most urgent and critical problems in the Jewish world today.

All readers are invited to not only share in the great mitzvah of ensuring and protecting the Jewish future, but at the same time to give some of the most spiritually needy elements of the worldwide Jewish community another chance at a fulfilling Jewish life.

Funds raised during this campaign will go towards the following Israel-based Shvut Ami activities:

The life-changing “Jerusalem Fellows” program that offers groups of university students from Germany and the FSU a powerful and positive two-week Jewish experience exploring their Jewish heritage in Israel.

Shvut Ami’s publishing house which has so far translated 68 popular Jewish titles into the Russian language. Over 250,000 books have been distributed worldwide at highly subsidized prices.

Ongoing training for 25 new teachers and lecturers who travel regularly to the FSU, supporting and strengthening many Jewish communities.

Shvut Ami’s “Fund for the Needy,” providing Jewish books, tefillin, mezuzot, Shabbat candlesticks, food for the Jewish holidays and basic furniture for newlyweds.

Please consider visiting www.charidy.com during our 24-hour campaign starting Monday at 12pm. To register for our e-mail reminder service, please e-mail [email protected]. Telephone donations can be made by calling (201) 575-9080.

Rabbi Dovid Cofnas is the executive director of Worldwide Friends of Shvut Ami and is based in Bergenfield, NJ.

By Dovid Cofnas

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