In the Media

Hitting the slopes before Shabbos - FREE program helps to introduce kids to their Jewish roots
- Courier Life Publications

Friday, February 22, 2007

As 30 Jewish teens, all first and second generation Russian immigrants, snapped their boot bindings into their skis and leapt aboard Hunter Mountain’s lift, they were continuing a tradition of Jewish education begun by Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe ( F.R.E.E.) in 1969.

Back in the 70s and early 80s, when Soviet Jews arrived with few or no possessions but a passion for religious freedom, F.R.E.E. served as benefactor, offering practical necessities – dishes and clothing – and spiritual growth opportunities with a yeshiva, Jewish camp, and brit milah services. All still exist: F.R.E.E. recently performed its 13,200th circumcision; its Brooklyn day camp attracted 150 kids last summer; the F.R.E.E. high school is still open on Ocean Parkway. But the organization’s focus has evolved with the changing needs of the Russian-Jewish community.

Overall, the first generation of Russians that came as children and now have kids of their own do not value what their parents felt was important,” said Rabbi David Okunov, associate program director of F.R.E.E. “Those who can afford it go to private schools out on Long Island How can a Jewish organization compete with the American dream? The answer may be found on the snowy peaks of Hunter Mountain Resort, where F.R.E.E . campers have been welcomed by the owners, the Slutzky family, for years. Skiing, rope courses, tubing, ice skating, bowling and swimming in an indoor pool at the winter camp’s site on the premises of the Landfield Avenue Synagogue’s inn took up most of eight-day experience. Torah classes were offered once a day. Directors Rabbi Dan Dashevsky and Rabbi Mendel Okunov counted more upon the camp’s Jewish atmosphere and the counselors to convey the compatibility of Judaism and fun. The idea is they should have a great time while gaining a sense of Yiddishkeit,” said Rabbi Okunov. Sam Trost, a star student at P.S. 234, recently celebrated his bar mitzvah enjoyed camp.” What I love most about camp is that I had the opportunity to learn what being Jewish really means,” he said. Parents reluctant to enroll their sons in yeshiva favor the Jewish cultural experience offered by the F.R.E.E., especially since it is combined with winter sports. Sam’s mother, Marina, harried and still trying to get her baby daughter into a bath at 8:30 p.m. on Monday night, was grateful for the opportunity Winter Camp afforded her son. “I was very happy to have him go,” said Mrs. Trost. “He really liked it. The winter activities were very good for him, because otherwise he doesn’t get out much.”

Rabbis Meir and Hirshel Okunov, originally from Russia, were just settling into rabbinical studies at the central Lubavitch yeshiva when the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s chief of staff Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Aizik Hodakov, received word that two fatherless young men had arrived in New York from the Soviet Union. The Okunov brothers took Rabbi Hodakov’s request to make the Rosenberg boys feel at home very seriously. They repainted their dorm room and gave the newcomers their beds. As more Russians followed, the Rebbe encouraged the Okunovs to go door to door at New York City hotels where Soviet Jews took shelter.

Graduates of F.R.E.E. activities have found their way into leadership positions throughout the Jewish world. Alumnus Rabbi Eli Blokh leads Chabad of Rego Park in Queens, NY. Zelig Krymko, who received a brit funded by F.R.E.E. at age two and is now the national director of TruePeace.org, a pro-Israel think tank, recalled his summer in F.R.E.E.’s camp as “the first really positive, fun-filled Jewish experience I had.” More than three decades since its founding, times have changed but its core remains unchanged. F.R.E.E. brings Judaism to Russian Jews by building personal relationships family by family, child by child.

If you know of any children who might benefit from FREE’s youth programs or to get more information, please contact FREE at 718-467-0860 Ext.123, or email Office@RussianJewry.org.

Back to Top

In the Media
 The First Night
Lubavitch.com
 The First Night
TheBrooklynInk.com
 Lighting A Fire In The Snow
The Jewish Press
 A Bar Mitzvah in Brooklyn
Lubavitch.com
 The Auspicious Reunion
The Jewish Press
 Russian Jews and The Matzah Factor
Lubavitch News Service
 Rambam Writings In Russian
The Jewish Press
 Congregants Welcome Torah Home
Bay Ridge Courier
 Festival of Lights Shines Over Borough
Courier Life Publications
 Congregants Rejoice In New Scrolls
Courier Life Publications
 Brooklyn Is Showered With Hanukkah Gelt
Courier Life Publications
 Russian F.R.E.E. Choir
Jewish Family Services
 Russians
Encyclopedia of Chicago
 Jan Peerce at Carnegi
New York Times
 Melting pot of Jewish film
Australian Jewish News
 Renewing ties with their religion
Jewish Independent
 Abiding act of faith
The Washington Times
 The Heroic Struggle
The Jewish Press
 The Kindest Cut of All
Urban Gazette
 A Welcome for Refugees
Daily News
 Hanukkah Festivities
The New York Times
 Freedom For the Free
Algemeiner Journal
 9 Russian Jews Baptized
The Jewish Press
 A Nine Year Old Hero
Algemeiner Journal
 Rite for Jewish Males
New York Times
 FREE Services Russians
The Jewish Press
 A Rally of Their Own
The Jewish Week
 Sept. 11: One year later
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
 Russian Jews find home at center
The Cincinnati Post
 Interfaith and FREE celebrate 10,000 bris mila
New Directions (Interfaith Medical Center)
 Helping Hands
New York Newsday
 The Cutting Edge
Baltimore Jewish Times
 Benefit Concert For F.R.E.E.
The Jewish Press
 Rite of Passage
Waverley Council Mayor's Column
 The 10,000th Circumcision
The Flatbush Life
Hebrew
 And it was in the days of Achashveyrosh - Hebrew
Kfar Chabad Magazine
 The FREE organization - Hebrew
Dedushka
 FREE Publishing House - Hebrew
Kfar Chabad
 From Russia to Brooklyn... - Hebrew
Haaretz
Yiddish
 Celebration 85 - Yiddish
Algemeiner Journal
 FREE opens New Synagogue in Brighton Beach - Yiddish
Algemeiner Journal
 3000 Russian Immigrats at Purim Celebration - Yiddish
Algemeiner Journal
 Dinner of Friends of Refugees - Yiddish
Algemeiner Journal
 FREE - Friends of Russian Jewry - Yiddish
Kol Boro Park
 Report on The Dinner of The Friends of Refugees - Yiddish
Algemeiner Journal
 Reb Nocum Preger is Honored at FREE’s Dinner - Yiddish
Algemeiner Journal
 Much dancing at a joyfulness celebration - Yiddish
Algemeiner Journal
Russian
 Gold Chanuka - Russian
Lechaim.ru
 Holiday for Torah in Crown Heights - Russian
Vecherniy New York
 Immigrants' Celebration - Russian
Novoye Russoe Slovo
 Yud Shvat - Russian
Novoye Russoe Slovo

About Us
F.R.E.E. Newsletter
Stay informed by subscribing to F.R.E.E.'s e-mail updates.
Site Tools
 
© 2003-2016 Cong. Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe. All rights reserved.