By COLlive reporter
Why did over 1,000 people stream into the Chabad Shul in Rostov, Russia after midnight last week?
The unlikely sight was the idea of Rostov Head Shliach Rabbi Chaim Danzinger, who is constantly thinking of new ways to get unaffiliated and assimilated people into the synagogue doors, especially the youth, many of whom are too shy or fearful to visit.
Three years ago, Rabbi Danzinger hit upon an idea: Chabad of Rostov would become a featured location in the city’s “Museum Night” campaign, which encourages people to visit the city’s museums and sites late at night.
Following a successful program, Rabbi Danzinger was eager to participate again, however, last year they were unable to join since the program was scheduled for the day of Shavuos.
This year, Rabbi Danzinger says, they signed up again, expecting a crowd of 100 – 200 people to show up.
“To our surprise, the event was a huge success, with over 1,000 participants of all ages, backgrounds and faiths,” Rabbi Danzinger told COLlive.com.
The crowd was warmly greeted by Rabbi Danzinger and community members, who shared about the Jewish life and culture.
Chabad’s student members were set up at stations, where they greeted visitors and taught hands-on about Jewish holidays and traditions, such as Pesach, Chanukah, Shabbos, Safrus, and Kashrus.
“The guests were fascinated by what they heard and learned,” Rabbi Danzinger said. “And what was even more amazing is that the students themselves gained so much by teaching others. They said it was the most incredible experience seeing how much people were interested in learning about our heritage, and now they appreciate what we have even more.”
Rabbi Danzinger is hopeful that this event will be seeing results for a long time to come, since it gave the opportunity to so many who have never visited the community before, to “sneak in” and learn about Yiddishkeit in an unintimidating way. Hopefully, now they will feel more comfortable to begin attending Shul.
“It was amazing to see people’s feedback as they shared online their amazement at how welcoming the community was, and how warmly they were greeted,” Rabbi Danzinger told COLlive.
Later that night, Rabbi Danzinger got a message online from a woman who was so moved by what she saw and heard, that when she got home she read through the entire Chabad programs calendar which she was given during the visit.
She related that she is 3 quarters Jewish and 1 quarter Russian, but she was baptized, as were her children.
“Her grandparents narrowly escaped the Nazis and suffered persecution, so they did everything possible to leave Judaism behind,” Rabbi Danzinger said. “But now she said is so inspired that she asked to meet. We had a meeting today, she cried and said she wants to introduce her children back to their roots,” he said.