In the face of the constant threat of severe anti-Semitism, Russian Jewish immigration from the Former Soviet Union to Australia began in the late 70’s and lasted until 1980.
The main immigration occurred between 1987, as Russian immigrants desired to establish a better life for their children, hoping to give them opportunities that they had missed out on in their youth.
Thankfully, the Jewish Agency of Australia sponsored these immigrants and assisted them in adapting to the new lifestyle offered by Australian society.
Due to the fact that they were prohibited from practicing their religious beliefs, they viewed themselves as Jews merely by title, rather than by their performance of religious practices or lifestyle.
As such, an unfortunate amount of assimilation, intermarriage and disassociation with religious practices was characteristic of the early Russian Jewish community.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe in his infinite wisdom titled the Former Soviet Union Jews of the 1970’s as the “stolen generation” – having been stripped bare of their right to practice Judaism. Soviet Russia had indeed performed a spiritual genocide over their Jewish citizens, forcing them to give up their Jewish identity.
Due to their lack of affiliation to Judaism, many in the western world questioned the authenticity of the ‘Jewishness’ of the Jewish Russian immigrant. The Rebbe however cleared these doubts concerning Russian Jews, by recognizing the fact that they had been living under the harsh tyrannies of the “Iron Curtain,” and they were definitely to be identified as Jews.
In the free societies of the western world, the conditions that Russian Jewry had unbearably lived through were incomprehensible to the democratic citizen, and still remain so today.
It was not until 1986 that Rabbi Yoram Ulman and his wife Shternie, were sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to Sydney to inspire and influence the Russian Jewish community, to return to their roots and recognize their Jewish identity in a practical and pragmatic way.
Russian-speaking and coming from the former Soviet Union himself, Ulman was able to reach out to each individual and cater to their needs, answering their questions and living by example as a religious Jew freed from the imprisonment of their former lives.
The establishment of the FREE (Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe) community by Rabbi Ulman and now also Rabbi Eli Schlanger have proven to be a source of inspiration, education and enrichment for all who were not privileged to have this freedom to Soviet Jewry.
It is the means by which the Russian Jewish communities which stands today at over 12,000 people, are becoming educated about their Judaism and the practices of Jewish culture. It is a meeting place for all those who share the same background and hope to share an enlightened future.
The time has come however to expand their property in order to increase the resources offered to the community at large. 105 Wellington Street in Bondi has been purchased to fulfill this role; seeking to create and strengthen social links through shared cultural and recreational pursuits.
In order to facilitate the maintenance of this outstanding project FREE have plans to build apartments on this site which will be offered for affordable rent – a viable option which will allow for the financing of the centre as well as benefiting the wider community.
The rezoning of this area will be determined through a vote by local council in mid November of this year.
For this reason F.R.E.E. is turning to you, the Lubavitch and wider Jewish Community for assistance, by writing emails of support and a simple click of an online petition to our local government.