Over the past decade, one million Olim (new immigrants) have arrived in Israel from the former Soviet Union (FSU). For many Olim, the first few years in Israel are dominated by practical and material concerns, particularly learning Hebrew and finding employment and housing. Once Olim have dealt with such initial issues, the difficulties of cultural, spiritual and religious absorption surface in full force.
Olim from the FSU come from a society that underwent profound change, with the transition from a state-controlled Communist regime to an extreme form of market economy. Under the Communist regime, many Jews knew little about their cultural or religious heritage.
As a religious movement, we recognize our responsibility to bring this population closer to Judaism, in order to assure its successful absorption in Israel. In particular, we believe it is our obligation to offer these immigrants the option of liberal Judaism, countering the tendency to polarization among many of these Olim.
Olim from the FSU are, of course, welcome at all the IMPJs congregations and institutions. Some Olim have come to the IMPJ through our kindergartens, seeking a high-quality education for their children, and have subsequently become involved in other areas of activity. Several IMPJ congregations offer special courses on Judaism in Russian and/or easy Hebrew for Olim from the FSU and other countries.
A unique model for Jewish religious and cultural life is currently emerging in Ashdod, a city with a very large population of FSU Olim. A small group of Olim who met in a local community center is forming the kernel of a new IMPJ congregation in the city, run for and by FSU Olim. At a later stage, we hope to integrate the members of this group in the general activities of the IMPJ, while encouraging them to develop their own particular identity and emphases.
A wide range of publications have been produced in recent years, including a prayerbook with Russian translation, and numerous books and pamphlets on Jewish history, religion and heritage. The IMPJ also publishes Rodnik, a Russian-language periodical distributed in the FSU and in Israel. The Communities Department runs training courses for lecturers and community activists; conversion courses and Jewish studies, and so on.