FREE Services Russians
The Jewish Press
By Joel Passick
The Lubavitcher Chasidim are vigorously working to aid the Russian Jews through three I organizations: Ezras Achim which sends religious materials to Russia, Chama which aids Russian Jews in Israel and FREE which helps Russian Jews in America.
FREE stands for Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe and is headed by Rabbi Aba Pliskin. Its members are former Russian refugees who therefore feet that they are well aware of how hard it is to be in a new land with a new language.
"When the Russian Jews arrive in America they find themselves alone and besieged with problems," explained Rabbi H. Okunov, the Executive Director of FREE. "The new Russians don't understand the new system. They assumed that in America not only would they find new friends but a new family and now they are disgusted. They can't, even find a job even though they were professionals in Russia.'
FREE sends a welcoming committee to the airport to meet the new refugees and assist them. They then visit the Russian at the hotels where they bring them clothes, books and religious items. Usually the clothes ire left in the hotel lobby so that whoever needs them can just take them. During Chanukah, 600 menorahs were distributed. On Pesach, over seventy families were provided with brand new utensils for a kosher holiday. Passover products as well as Matzah and paper plates were also supplied.
Because of the summer heat at the Bretton, one of the hotels where the Russian Jews are placed, twenty fans were purchased to cool off the rooms. This summer, 160 boys and girls were sent to the Catskills to study and experience Jewish life. Ads were placed in the Russian paper Russkoye Slovo Novo in order to publicize the camp program and other parties that the Lubavitch held.
The Lubavitch are also very concerned with the religious and spiritual life of the Russian Jews. The new immigrants are placed in special classes for learning English. Pamphlets in Russian are also distributed explaining about Judaism and the various holidays. Discussions are held on observance of Torah and mitzvoth. Neigborhood classes are functioning where history, philosophy and Hebrew on all levels are made available. Lectures featuring prominent Russian Jewish artists, tutoring, meals and a religious education. For Shabbos and Yamim Tovim, FREE arranges gatherings as well as meals with American families. Chanukah rallies were held in the Bronx, Boro Park and at the hotels. A Sukkah was brought by truck to the immigrants in the Latham, Bretton Hall and Embassy Hotels in Manhattan. Religious items such as talleisim tefillin and sedurim in Russian are also distributed. The Lubavitch have also arranged many bris milahs for immigrants of all ages.
Loans and Jobs
Economic guidance for the new immigrants is as important. FREE provides free loans and vocational counselling. Their job placement service includes the escorting of applicants to job interviews and to the first days of work. Two specific cases mentioned by the Lubavitch were a violinist who couldn't find a job by himself and whom Lubavitch successfully placed and Professor Branover, who paid a 40,000 lira education tax to leave Russia. Professor Branover spent a year and a?half in America during which time lie was aided by Lubavitch. Now he is at the Weitzman Institute in Israel.
"For non?English speaking people to decipher advertisements or to make any of the hundred?and-one arrangements necessary for renting and moving into an apartment" rcads a FREE pamphlet, "is not easy." FREE tries to make this task easier. Once the new family is in their new home, the "Friends" maintain contact with the family and continue to visit and call them periodically. In this way, they help them with any material difficulties, ?is well as discussing and informing them about "furthering their observance of Torah and mitzvoth."
FREE has offices in New York, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and around the world.
In one case, a missionary farm in Rome tried to convert a Russian Jewish family and promised to get them to America after conversion. FREE found out, got them to Paris and is now in contact with them through their Paris office.
FREE believes that even non Russian speaking volunteers can provide tremendous spiritual uplifting to the Russian Jewish immigrants. But the most important thing, says FREE, is sincere friendship.
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