Jewish revival in Russia Optimism: End of communism triggers rebirth of religious and educational institutions.

September 14, 1997

THE FIRST NEW synagogue in Moscow since czarist times is under construction. It is a symbol of the Jewish revival that is taking place throughout Russia. After years of emigration which saw more than one-third of the former Soviet Union's estimated 1.8 million Jews seek refuge in Israel and other foreign countries, Russian Jewish life, religious and cultural, is thriving.

A Jewish theater, ''Shalom,'' opened in Moscow last year. Soon thereafter, ''Maccabee,'' a youth sports club, was formed. Four Jewish day schools operate in Moscow, two in St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, a concert series featured works of neglected Russian Jewish composers.

''We look toward tomorrow with optimism,'' the Russian Jewish Congress last year concluded in its first annual report. This central agency of Russian Jews operates 10 regional offices.

Many Russian Jews, stung by occasional bursts of anti-Semitism, still may dream of emigrating. But as Soviet-era travel restrictions ended, many others decided to stay, believing today's Russia is an exciting place full of unprecedented opportunities. Top officials of the Russian Jewish Congress are a veritable ''Who's Who'' of Moscow's business elite, starting with Vladimir Gusinsky, president of the most influential banking and media conglomerate.

With its $2.6 million budget, the congress has made reviving Jewish education a priority. ''The distinct lack of any Jewish educational structure in Russia since 1917 has been one of the greatest tragedies of the spiritual holocaust that occurred in Russia under the Communists,'' the congress said in its annual report.

The congress also assists cantorial programs, centers for circumcisions and ritual baths, Jewish holiday celebrations and programs making kosher meat products available to those wanting to follow dietary laws.

In Soviet times, most Jewish centers of worship and culture disappeared and people became ignorant of religious traditions. those traditions are being revived, Russian Jews are rediscovering their rich heritage.

Pub Date: 9/14/97

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