Sochi Gets Ready To Host Jews With Kosher Food and 3 Synagogues

Chabad Leads Push With 13 Rabbis for Winter Olympics

Welcome to Russia! Workmen spruce up Sochi in advance of Winter Olympics opening ceremonies. Chabad is leading an effort to make Jewish visitors feel at home, with kosher food, three shuls and 13 rabbis in the Black Sea resort.
getty images
Welcome to Russia! Workmen spruce up Sochi in advance of Winter Olympics opening ceremonies. Chabad is leading an effort to make Jewish visitors feel at home, with kosher food, three shuls and 13 rabbis in the Black Sea resort.

By Cnaan Liphshiz

Published February 06, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

(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.

As with most things Jewish in Russia today, Jewish services in Sochi are spearheaded by Chabad, which dispatched its first emissaries to the former Soviet Union 20 years ago after the fall of communism. In December, Berel Lazar, the Chabad-affiliated chief rabbi of Russia, announced plans for new synagogues in 12 Russian locales from Kaliningrad, near the Polish border, to Birobidzhan near North Korea. Five new synagogues will open in Moscow alone.

Chabad’s emissaries helped breathe new life not only into established Jewish communities, but also into places like Sochi which, according to Chabad, never had a permanent Jewish community before the 20th century. The growth of the network has made large-scale efforts like Sochi possible.

“Ten years ago, the same sort of effort in Sochi would have been much more difficult and more expensive from a logistical point of view,” Gorin said.

As with the games themselves, which cities often woo in part for their long-term impact on development, Edelkopf, Sochi’s rabbi, hopes the global exposure for his small community will have an enduring effect.

“We hope the exposure and the heightened awareness of Jewish community life will increase long term interest in Jewish life for Sochi Jews and its visitors,” he told JTA.

For Edelkpof, 36, the arrival in Sochi 12 years ago was something of a baptism by fire. Just months after he moved, a Siberia Airlines flight crashed over the Black Sea on its way to Russia from Israel. Many of the 66 passengers aboard were Russian Israelis and Edelkopf, the only rabbi in the area, spent sleepless nights in the morgue helping to identify the victims and acting as the main contact person for families.

His performance was so impressive that Lazar mentioned it during an address at the Knesset in 2011 about the importance of the network of Chabad emissaries.

“Within hours, Rabbi Edelkopf was transformed into a combination of forensics expert and undertaker; a therapist and grief counsellor and the contact person for dozens of Israeli families and with the Israeli government,” Lazar said.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.