The Pesach Project

Participants at a kindergarten in Minsk

Every Pesach, in partnership with the World Union for Progressive Judaism, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion sends rabbinical, cantorial, and education students on a service trip to the Former Soviet Union.  Participants visit Jewish communities that were once under the realm of Soviet oppression and have since been able to create a revitalized Jewish identity within their communities.     

In pairs or small groups, participants - joined with a translator - embark into a country and culture they've yet to experience. As they make their way through Belarus, Russia, and Crimea, students will have the opportunity to impact and learn from these communities.  Participants will lead Pesach seders and educational programs while experiencing Jewish life and Jewish peoplehood in the Former Soviet Union.  As future leaders of Reform Judaism, it is our students' responsibility to understanding the Progressive Jewish world outside of their own communities.

For this trip to become a reality, our students must raise funds to cover flights and transportation, lodging, translators, programming materials, and a donation to every community they visit. Please donate today!

Meet the 2015 participants: 

Our 2015 participants will visit Simferopol and Yevpetoria in Crimea; Moscow and Tver in Russia; and Lida, Gomel, Baranovichi, Vitebsk, Bobruisk, Mogilev, and Minsk in Belarus. 

Participants praying in one of the last remaining wooden synagogues in the world in Zhezmir, Lithuania

My name is Jordy Cohen and I am a first-year rabbinical student from outside of Boston, MA. I completed my undergraduate degree in Religious Studies from the University of Pittsburgh. In the last few years, I have been very involved in the Jewish community, especially in Pittsburgh, teaching religious school at Temple Sinai of Pittsburgh, serving in a number of roles at the Hillel JUC of Pittsburgh, staffing NFTY in Israel, interning at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, and staffing teen trips to West Virginia and New York. I am incrediby excited and honored to be a part of HUC-JIR’s Former Soviet Union Pesach Project and am looking forward to learning from and experiencing a Jewish community so different from my own. 

My name is Lexi Erdheim and I am a first-year rabbinical student from Livingston, New Jersey.  I attended Barnard College undergrad where I majored in religious studies.  Prior to beginning my studies at HUC-JIR,  I worked as a rabbi’s assistant and Hebrew School teacher at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, NJ.  I am very excited to be participating in HUC-JIR’s Former Soviet Union Pesach Project. I look forward to creating meaningful connections with the members of these communities and exploring our similarities and differences.  I hope that I will be able to take this experience and bring it back to my community to create a dialogue between the Reform Movement and the Progressive Jewish world of Eastern Europe. 

My name is Alicia Harris and I grew up in Toledo, OH, where I attended Temple Congregation Shomer Emunim and decided to become a clergy member at the young age of 12. I studied at the University of Pittsburgh, where I earned two majors: Political Science and Religious Studies. I served as a student leader at the Pittsburgh Hillel and was a member of Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed service fraternity. After graduation, I worked for two years at Temple Sinai of Pittsburgh as executive assistant to the senior rabbi.  I am so thrilled to have the opportunity to visit the FSU and work with and learn from the Jewish community there. 

Participants at an "afta-Purim" party in Minsk, Belarus, sponsored by the Israeli government

My name is Sasha Kopp. I am from St. Louis, MO, and spent time teaching and learning in Boston. As a student studying Jewish education at HUC-JIR, I am passionate about learning how Jewish communities throughout the world transmit Jewish culture and tradition from one generation to the next. I am so excited that HUC-JIR offers the opportunity to travel to Belarus and Crimea for us to immerse ourselves in a community and learn other ways in which Judaism is practiced. This is an incredible possibility for me to share my skills and knowledge of Passover with this community through modalities of art, theater, and song.  I am especially excited to bring Jewish art to these communities as together we can explore themes of Passover and how they relate to our lives today. I have been fortunate to explore Jewish communities throughout the world with JDC, including spending sometime in Moscow. The Former Soviet Union Pesach Project will be a learning opportunity for all. It will enable me to share part of myself and my love of teaching with a community that has minimal access to Jewish educators, and I will be able to learn and grow from learning about a new and fascinating community.

My name is Amelia Lavranchuk. I am a first-year cantorial student at HUC-JIR from New Jersey. I am participating in the Former Soviet Union Pesach Project because I am interested in learning more about progressive Judaism around the world. I also hope to discover ways to strengthen ties between diverse Jewish communities. I am so excited to teach and learn from the communities that we will serve in the Former Soviet Union. I hope that this experience will give me the tools to help connect the North American communities that I will serve in the future with world Jewry, so that we can learn from and support each other.

My name is Tobias Divack Moss, a first-year student enrolled in the rabbinical program at HUC-JIR. In the past year, I have had the pleasure of leading musical and educational seminars in the Jewish communities of Istanbul and Kiev.  As I encounter distant members of the world Jewish community, it can be challenging to blend our different music, customs, and textual foundations. However, this interaction has the potential to reveal our deepest commonalities and the essence of Am Yisrael.  Thank you for supporting our effort to enhance the Pesach spirit throughout Belarus and Crimea.

Shalom! My name is David Reinhart, from Buffalo Grove, IL, and I am currently in my first year of studies towards becoming a rabbi.  I grew up within the Reform Movement, attending and participating in religious school, camps, and NFTY.  While studying at and after graduating from the University of Michigan, I worked at Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield, MI; Congregation Solel in Highland Park, IL; and URJ – Goldman Union Camp Institute in Zionsville, IN.  It is this involvement with and my commitment to Reform Judaism that led me to the rabbinate and to seek out this incredible opportunity to strengthen the connections between Progressive Jewish communities around the world.  HUC-JIR’s Former Soviet Union Pesach Project is a critical opportunity to maintain, develop, and grow the connections that bind our Jewish world together.  Through this program, my fellow participants and I will be able to provide a unique Reform Jewish character to Pesach for the Jews of Belarus and Crimea, while participating in the equally unique Pesach experience of those Progressive Jewish communities.  Together we can connect two vibrant Jewish communities separated by 5,300 miles, sharing ideas, values, and customs and forging a relationship to span the distance between our fellow Jews.

My name is Leah Sternberg and I am a first-year rabbinical student from Detroit, MI.  I am thrilled to be take part in HUC-JIR’s Former Soviet Union Pesach Project.  I am grateful for the opportunity to spend the week strengthening the relationship between the Reform Movement and the Progressive Jewish world, and I know that my time learning, teaching, and celebrating with the small Jewish communities of Belarus and Crimea will be a rewarding experience.  I hope to have made a meaningful impact and also to bring back what I have learned, in order to teach my own Jewish communities more about the Progressive Jewish world.

My name is Isaama Stoll. I am a first-year rabbinical student from the D.C. area and a recent graduate of Carleton College. As a Jew of color, I have found my home in Reform Judaism because of the Movement's openness and desire to embrace diversity. An integral part of my rabbinical education will include learning about the diversity that exists within Reform Judaism and exploring the diverse needs of Reform Jewish communities around the world. I am looking forward to this tremendous opportunity to teach and serve in the Reform communities of Belarus and Crimea in part because it will allow me to explore Reform Jewish diversity.  I hope that through the platform of Jewish learning and the celebration of Passover, we can help strengthen the mutual understanding of American and Former Soviet Union Jews as we learn from one another.