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St. Petersburg – Then & Now

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IT'S WORKING – By Brian Seymour

I recently returned from a Jewish Federations of North America National Young Leadership Cabinet mission that included several days in our partnership region of St. Petersburg, Russia. I was there almost exactly eight years ago on a mission to teach the St. Petersburg Jewish community about Passover. These two trips have given me a unique perspective on our work in revitalizing Jewish life and creating a Jewish future in the former Soviet Union. One thing is clear – it‘s Working!

Very few of us are as privileged as I am to see the impact of our dollars and our time directly. Eight years ago, the Jews of St. Petersburg did not know how to perform a Passover Seder, much less have any Jewish communal activities. With our work, along with our friends from the Cleveland Jewish Federation, St. Petersburg is a growing Jewish community. We no longer need to teach them about Pesach. They have a working and growing Jewish Community Center – all around which you see plaques of thanks to you, the donors to the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County. We helped make that JCC, Yesod, a reality. We helped to build the foundation for the future of Jewish life in St. Petersburg.

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With our partners from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), the Jewish community provides assistance for the elderly, who are all-too-often neglected and rejected by the overall Russian community…opportunities for adults with special needs, who are often shunned by Russian culture… a connection for the local community to Israel and other Diaspora Jews…opportunities for Jews to express their Judaism -- something we may take for granted but which is a relatively new option for Russian Jews.

We have the opportunity to pick a synagogue, attend any number of Jewish events, or to just be with other Jews when we want. It is part of our lives; a very real part of who we are. Our efforts are helping these things become part of Jewish life in St. Petersburg. Thanks to our efforts, it’s happening. The Jewish population is overcoming the past that was thrust upon them by Soviet Russia. They young people are energized and passionate about Judaism.

St. Petersburg is a fledgling community. The city’s Jews are just learning to walk on their own. With our continued assistance, they will walk, then run, then fly. Their community will thrive. There is a future for the Jewish community of St. Petersburg because of you, because of us. Because together, we will not let Jews be alone, even those we never met.

My thanks to all of you for helping to build a Jewish life for those in need. Together, we can say, “It’s working!” And to that, I say, “Amen!”

— Brian Seymour, Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County Business & Professions member.

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