A rebirth for 500 Jews in Russia

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Largely due to the efforts of a Bay Area organization, a tiny Jewish community in an isolated Russian town has gotten a new lease on life.

Earlier this month, a delegation organized by San Francisco's Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal traveled to Borovichi for the dedication of the town's new synagogue.

They brought with them a Torah scroll, which will be kept in an ark from Borovichi's old synagogue. It was closed by Communist authorities in the 1920s.

The small Bay Area group, which included two rabbis, also brought a shofar, kiddush cup and a tremendous amount of love and support. Temple Beth Torah in Fremont, Borovichi's partner synagogue, sent funds.

The synagogue dedication represents a rebirth for the 500 Jews of the small Russian town, many of whom have never practiced their religion. It also represents a victory over a band of neo-Nazis who made life miserable for Borovichi's Jews until authorities cracked down on the hate group earlier this year.

The BACJRR can take partial credit for that crackdown. On hearing of the threat to the town's Jews, the Bay Area organization launched an international campaign to focus attention on neo-Nazi activity.

As a result, Borovichi officials received hundreds of messages of concern from around the world. The local legislature passed laws banning inciteful activity by the neo-Nazi group. And officials gave the Jews a building in the center of town.

Not that Borovichi's Jews are out of the woods. Shortly after their new building was dedicated, a fire believed to be arson caused severe damage. Hate clearly still exists in Borovichi.

But as this month's synagogue dedication proves, the small Jewish community will not be kept down. Borovichi's Jews plan to practice their faith in full view, with their heads held high.

And as the BACJRR campaign proves, sometimes it pays to speak up.