On December 25, 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. A regime that had been uprooting religious freedom for nearly 80 years had finally collapsed, leaving only embers – Jewish souls fighting to stay alight.
The Jewish Community of Rostov, perched on the banks of the Don River, has a rich Jewish history. Despite the communist's oppression of religious freedom, Rostov had over a dozen active synagogues in the 1930s. But by 1942, as the Nazis viciously marched their armies along the Don River, the Jewish community reached near annihilation. 27,000 of its members were murdered in a single massacre in August of 1942, the largest mass killing in Russia.
Today, the community has reestablished itself as a vibrant hub of Jewish life. Under the dynamic leadership of Rabbi Chaim Danzinger and his dedicated wife, Kaila, Rostov is once again a welcome home for Jews and Judaism, with a beautiful synagogue, busy day school, popular overnight camp, and one of the most active Jewish youth clubs in the country.
I have been visiting Rostov for several years and was fascinated by the compelling stories of the community's members. Their accounts provide a rich portrait of the history of Russian Jewry, from the generation that lived through the Holocaust and communism. What struck me the most when I started the project, though, were the stories that the younger generation told. There is a resurgence happening across the country as young people are choosing to live as active Jews.
I invite you to join me on the photographic journey. Explore the fascinating lives and meaningful tales of the courageous Jews living in Rostov today.
God gave each of us a soul,
a candle to illuminate our surroundings with His light.
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson