Sochi, Russia — (JTA) — Soft sand and turquoise beaches make Sochi a lovely holiday destination, but this coastal Russian city is less than ideal for providing religious services to thousands of Jewish tourists.
With few native Jews and only one resident rabbi, the Black Sea resort of 400,000 residents would seem ill-equipped to handle the tens of thousands of Jewish visitors expected to arrive here for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
But that has changed over the past year. On Friday, the official opening day of the 2014 games, the city will boast five Jewish information centers, three synagogues and 13 rabbis.
The Jewish infrastructure in Sochi is aimd not only at serving Jewish visitors, but at advertising what the Chabad-affiliated Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia calls a Jewish revival in the former Soviet Union. Boruch Gorin, a senior Chabad rabbi in Moscow, told JTA the Jewish presence in Sochi is meant to function something like an embassy.
“At Sochi, there will be international media, politicians, top athletes,” Gorin said. “It is very important that we show that we are on the map and what is happening to Russian Jewry, its revival.
Among the services available to Jewish visitors are daily prayers, Shabbat dinners, Teffilin stations and kosher food.
Sochi’s Chabad rabbi, the Los Angeles-born Ari Edelkopf, says the community has prepared 7,000 meals. An English-language website, jewishsochi.com, was launched last month to provide updated information for visitors and athletes, including the 10 Israelis competing.
The Sochi Jewish community began preparing for the games last year, with a massive renovation of the city’s small permanent synagogue and the introduction of a new Torah scroll. This week, the synagogue will host the community’s own opening ceremony with a reception to welcome the Jewish athletes.