HUC-JIR/WUPJ Pesach Project 2010 Report - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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HUC-JIR/WUPJ Pesach Project 2010 Report

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Monday, April 19, 2010

This year, Pesach began on March 29, in the shadow of a cruel and terrible terrorist attack in Moscow. Terror has unfortunately has become one of the biggest global problems, without discriminating between countries, nations or even festivals such as Pesach symbolizing freedom from slavery and new beginnings. I thank you for your emails and calls expressing concerns for our FSU staff and congregation members. Everyone is well. I would like to take this opportunity to express my shock and send sympathy to all families of those who were killed and pray for the speedy recovery of those injured.

Despite this dark shadow, Pesach celebrations took place all over the FSU. Below, is a summary of Pesach festivities in 3 countries.

It is important to state that for the 8th consecutive year 14 HUC-JIR students visited and conducted Seders in 15 cities throughout the FSU. This year the project was led by Molly Plotnik and Allison Tick. Both students and members of our various congregations emphasized the importance of the project, not only the conducting of the Seders, but the connections between Jews from different countries. Vibrant Jewish life exists all over the world, not only in the USA and Israel and it is important to continue to strengthen our connections and sense of Jewish Peoplehood. The students prepared a slideshow see:


I. Russia:

A. Moscow:

For the first time, Seders were held at the new Moscow Center for Progressive Judaism. Instead of one Seder for the entire Moscow congregation, 3 Seders were conducted, due to the large numbers of people wishing to take part. The Seders were held on the first, second and seventh night of Pesach.

Among the 80 guests at the first special VIP Seder for local and foreign businessmen were: Lay leaders, active members and friends of the congregation such as Svetlana and Ed Kaufman and Gene Moldavsky. Svetlana and Ed brought many of their friends and colleagues (totaling over 30 people) such as Stan Polovets, CEO of the Genesis Foundation and his family.

The Seder was very successful due to the warm, family atmosphere. There were various activities such as an auction held for the afikoman and a CD of children's songs from our congregation that were sold for a significant price. Proceeds went to the congregation. All of the guests expressed their enthusiasm and said they enjoyed the Seder.

The second Seder at the center included 75 local community members and JEEPs (Jewish English Speaking Expats).

It is important to note that participants paid for both Seders, $50 per person for congregation members and $100 per person for guests. All expenses were covered as a result of these fees. This is a great example of the congregation's target of self sufficiency.

The third Seder was held on the 7th day of Pesach for Netzer and TaMaR for 40 participants.

Other Seders held in Moscow:

  • A Seder in the northern Moscow congregation Severnaya
  • A Seder for Hineni Congregation
  • A special Seder was conducted for the hearing impaired  
  • Seder for WWII veterans and former prisoners of Nazi camps
  • Seder for the Reform congregation in the MEOD center

A total of 545 people attended the different Seders led by Rabbi Alexander Lyskovoy, Rabbi Leonid Bimbat, Executive Director Valery Sheinin, Office Manager Katya Solodkaya, Netzer Coordinator for Russia Katya Angelova, para-rabbinical leader Boris Vasilevskiy, Cantor Denis Shvets and song leader Lev Zilberman. 

Cantor Dmitry Karpenko also led Seders outside Moscow in Tver and Lipetsk that were very much enjoyed by members of both congregations.

See photos:1st Seder:

                     2nd Seder:

                     Netzer Seder:

B. St. Petersburg

In the new center, Sha'arei Shalom conducted 2 Seders. The first Seder was on Pesach eve, March 29, and the second Seder was conducted towards the end of the holiday.

Sixty members took part in the first Seder that was conducted at candle light due to a power outage that occurred half way through the Seder! This did not affect the spirit of the guests; it actually made the event more special. Active members who regularly attend services, family seminars, and whose children are enrolled in the Sunday school were among those who attended this Seder. They not only came to participate, but assisted in preparations and in conducting the Seder. It was also wonderful to host leaders of the Jewish community in the city and their families.

Traditional food for the Seder was prepared by congregation members, as well as staff in our kitchen. This was a volunteer group effort and much appreciated. It was a challenge, as well as a culinary journey. A variety of traditional food such as: gefilte fish, chicken soup with kneidelach, cakes baked from matzo flour were prepared. This experience served only to further unite the congregation.

The second Seder on the 7th night focused on crossing the Red Sea. It was very different to the classic Seder already conducted and 40 people took part.

These Seders were additional proof of the growth of the congregation and the significant mark it is making in the wider Jewish community of St. Petersburg. The congregation received holiday greetings from local officials among them: Mayor Litvinenko who wished the Sha'arei Shalom much success and prosperity. 

No less important, was a budgetary makeover. All the costs for Seders were covered by the entrance fees charged.

All these achievements are a result of the professional staff coming together under the leadership of Rabbi Helena Rubinstein, new Chair Boris Belinitski, former Chair Masha Ukradezhenko, Alla Mitelman, Community Programs Director, and the support of dedicated volunteers.

See photos:

C. Other cities:

Apart from Moscow, St. Petersburg and Lipetsk, Seders were held in eight Progressive congregations throughout Russia.

  • Sixty people attended a Seder in Lipetsk led by Olga Zamatina see photos:
  • Tyumencommunity organised 2 Seders hosting 150 people
  • Chelyabinsk– communal Seder for 80 people, and a Seder for Sunday school for 25 people
  • Tver – a communal Seder for 120 people
  • Tula– a communal Seder for 70 people
  • Krasnodar– Seder for 115 people
  • Murmansk– Seder for 30 people
  • Khabarovsk– Seder for 120 people

Two HUC students assisted in leading Seders in 2 cities in Russia (Tyumen and Chelyabinsk).

A total of 1415 people attended Seders held throughout Russia.


II. Ukraine

A. Kiev:

Different Seders were led by Rabbi Alex Dukhovny, with the support of the professional team led by Executive Director Alex Haydar:

  • The Hatikvah Congregation organized a Pesach Seder 50 participants
  • Seders for 3 kindergartens groups were held – 120 people (parents and children) attended. Children presented plays depicting the story of Pesach  
  • Special Seders for students of Hebrew(Culture Centre of Israel)– 60 participants
  • A special musical Seder was conducted at the Music Institute in the framework of a Jewish Intellectual Club. The institute rector is Alexander Zlotnik, Chair of the Ukrainian movement. The 20 participants included Jewish singers and musicians, and Cantor Sergei Schwartz from the USA who was born in Ukraine.
  • For the first time, Rabbi Alex Duchovny was invited to lead a special Seder at the USA Embassy. Among the 15 guests were the ambassador and othe senior officials. Their interest in the festival as well as other Jewish holidays was great, even though most of them are not Jewish.

B. Crimea:

Rabbi Michael Kapustin led Seders along with 2 HUC students in Crimea:  

  • 90 people attended a Seder for the local Reform congregation in Simferopil
  • 60 people participated in the community Seder in Yevpatoria
  • 50 people participated in the community Seder in Feodosia

C. Odessa and Cherkassy

Leading community worker in the city, Vladimir Torchinsky, along with 2 HUC students led a Seders for 60 people at the Odessa congregation and at the kindergarten – 20 participants. At the Cherkassy congregation were two Seders for congregation (60 and 100 participants), Seder for Netzer (20 participants) and Seder at the kindergarten – 60 participants.

D. Lutsk and Lviv

Leading community leaders along with 2 HUC students led a Seders for 90 people at the Lutsk congregation, for 40 people at the Lviv congregation and at the kindergarten – 50 participants.

See photos for Lviv:

Seders were held in 17 Progressive congregations throughout the Ukraine with a total of 1500 people participated in Seders throughout the Ukraine.

See photos for Ukraine:


III. Belarus


A. Cantorial Festival:

  • 450 people attended the 6th International Cantorial Festival in Minsk. Among the 40 participants were guests from Lithuania and David Mintz HUC cantorial student.

The festival was filmed and broadcasted for the first time by the local television station see link: An article about the festival was published in one of the more popular newspapers in Belarus: Belarus Today.

B. Seders & seminars in Minsk:

  • Rabbi Gregory Abramovich led a seminar about conducting a Seder. The seminar was sponsored by Atlanta Federation.
  • He was also invited to begin the Seder for Jewish youth organizations in Minsk including: Hillel, Jewish Agency, JCC Emuna, Netzer, and ORT School.

A total of 8 Reform Seders took place in Minsk and Brest were conducted by Rabbi Gregory Ambramovich and professional staff:

  • Simcha, Bnei Mitzvah students assisted in leading the Seder from the second cup of wine to the meal part of the Seder
  • Sheket a special Seder was held for the hearing impaired. The first part of the Seder was led by members of the congregation who have partial hearing and speech. At the same time, the Seder was translated into sign language.  
  • TaMaR (youth) in which the first part of the Seder was led by the group of madrichim that recently won first prize at the Purimshpiel in Vitebsk
  • A Seder was held in our Belarus Reform office with staff members and HUC students, Seder at the Jewish community center in the city
  • Bnei Mitzvah students and their parents took part in a Seder
  • A Seder was held for members of the family club. This is a JCC club; however families that are members are also affiliated with the Reform movement.  
  • The Minsk Jewish community center 
  • Rabbi Abramovich also travelled to Brest and conducted a Seder at the Progressive congregation, Nefesh.

C. Other Seders in Belarus

Seders were conducted by staff members, volunteers and HUC students throughout Belarus. Despite their very short stay, the contribution of HUC students was very significant. In 3 days, 6 HUC students conducted 11 Seders in 6 cities: Baranovichi, Vitebsk, Mogilev, Grodno and Lida. Students came very prepared and their presence at the Seders was very important.

Seders were also held in Gomel at HaTikva Jewish day school and in Polotsk a joint Seder was conducted by the Reform congregation and Hesed.

A total of 2100 people attended 25 Seders throughout Belarus, the highest number ever! All of this was possible as a result of the hard work and dedication of the spiritual and administrative staff of the Belarus movement led by Rabbi Gregory Abramovich, Executive Director Michael Kemerov, Educational Coordinator Irina Belskaia and Netzer Coordinator for Belarus Faina Zmitrochenko.


As you can see from this comprehensive report, despite all the economic difficulties the Reform movement continues to serve the greater Jewish public and bring them closer to their traditions and roots. The rabbis, HUC students, community workers, volunteers created an unforgettable experience for this public during one of the most important holidays in the Jewish calendar. They enabled over 5000 people to come together around festive tables of freedom all over the FSU. A very important and apparent development, one that makes us very happy, is that all Seders conducted were covered by local communities. This indicates a maturation and significant step of our congregations in their goal to achieve self sufficiency.

I would like to thank HUC-JIR and the rabbinic and cantorial students that chose to spend their Pesach holidays in the FSU and conduct Seders there and to Debbie Pulik for leading the WUPJ component of the project from Jerusalem. 

Thank you to the FSU rabbis and professional staff for their hard work and dedication during this intensive week of Pesach celebrations, providing support not only to the Reform congregations, but to the wider Jewish community.

Alex Kagan, Director FSU 

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.