Without Borders Concert
celebrating the birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
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
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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