Music Without Borders Concert
celebrating the birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Hachnasas Sifrei TorahRabbi Hershel Okunov, Director FREE of Brighton Beach, commented with astonishment about the Music Without Borders Concert in the spring of this year. Performing at the concert were the Moscow Synagogue Choir and M-Generation, the local boys choir, all from Russian-Jewish immigrant families. The event took place at FREE’s Brighton Beach facility.

“The concept of a synagogue in Moscow whose choir comes to New York to perform together with the local Russian-Jewish boys choir was mind blowing,” exclaimed Rabbi Okunov. He recalled by contrast the atmosphere of imprisonment within the Soviet Union. “Certain borders were absolute and impenetrable in Communist Russia,” he said. “The Iron Curtain was a fact; the borders between Soviet Russia and the free world seemed impossible to cross.”
But the concert, which celebrated the approaching birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M Schneerson, served as testimony to the unbelievable change that G-d has brought about in the world, boruch Hashem, he said, adding that “the concert was a fitting tribute to the Rebbe’s vision.

It was Rabbi Herhel Okunov who, in 1988, founded the FREE Center of Brighton Beach at the behest of the Rebbe, in the old Hebrew Alliance Synagogue in Brighton Beach, a heavily Russian-Jewish populated area in Brooklyn.
Milana Lieberman-Feldman remembers arriving to the Brighton Beach center in 1989 from Russia and receiving a host of services from FREE. Rabbi Okunov, assisted by his then-teenage sons, helped the Feldmans find jobs and get settled in the neighborhood.

Milana says she has watched FREE’s growth in Brighton Beach over the years, adding it was truly astonishing. “They could barely get a minyan in those days,” she said. Now Brighton Beach is a bustling community with Shabbat-observant families, mostly young couples with children, and the numbers keep growing thanks to constant outreach efforts.

On Passover, six months later, some 200 local Russian Jews participated in FREE’s communal sedorim. The sedorim are open to the public and conducted entirely in Russian while the accompanying Haggadot, are in both Russian and Hebrew. The entire seder experience for the guests have been liberating and have added to the guests’ thankfulness for their personal Exodus in getting out of Russia and being in America close to Lubavitch where they are free and re-acquainting themselves with Yiddishkeit and an authentic Jewish lifestyle.

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