Bucking the global economic downturn, 16 students from the Jerusalem campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion raised funds to travel to the former Soviet Union to help Progressive Jews celebrate the Pesach holiday. It was the sixth consecutive year that the Pesach Project, guided by the World Union, has taken place. This time it was organized in large part by HUC-JIR students Amy Goodman and Jordan Helfman, with supervision from Rabbi David Wilfond, the campus’ director of admissions, and coordination by Debbie Pulik of the World Union’s Jerusalem-based FSU staff.
“The effects of the economic crisis are apparent and acutely felt in the field,” says Alex Kagan, the World Union’s director for the FSU. “Fewer congregations are being supported financially, and those that are fortunate to receive support are receiving less. More and more activities are being funded by local congregations, and some activities have been discontinued. However, the fact that 5,300 people participated in seders this year was significant and attests to the need of Jews in the FSU for traditional religious activity such as the Pesach Project, as well as the overall presence of the Reform movement.”
Several HUC-JIR students assisted the six resident Progressive rabbis - Alexander Lyskovoy (Moscow), Stas Wojciechowicz (St. Petersburg), Alexander Dukhovny (Kiev), Gregory Abramovich (Minsk) and Mikhail Kapustin (Simferopil) - to lead seders and other Pesach holiday activities. The rest fanned out into the periphery to help other movement professionals, as well as lay leaders and students from the World Union’s Institute for Modern Jewish Studies, to hold seders in smaller Progressive communities. All together, the students traveled to 18 cities and towns in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
Alexander Haydar, executive director of the movement in Ukraine, thanked the World Union and HUC-JIR for continuing the project despite the difficult economic times. “The implementation of the Pesach Project this year encouraged the continued development and growth of Jewish life in Ukraine, showing the members of our congregations the size and importance of the Reform Movement and the concern for them by both HUC-JIR and the World Union,” he said.