Miles of railway tracks, towering stadiums, sleek airport terminals and tons of snow stored from last winter are part of the gargantuan effort to ready the Russian city of Sochi and its environs for the millions of visitors expected for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
At the same time, Rabbi Ari Edelkopf of the Sochi Jewish community says that Chabad in Russia has been preparing to serve the thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish visitors who will soon converge upon the coastal city at the southwestern tip of Russia.
The 2014 Winter Olympics will take place from Feb. 7 to Feb. 23.
Ever since Sochi was selected back in 2007 to host the games, Rabbi Berel Lazar, the chief rabbi of Russia and chairman of the Rabbinical Alliance of the Former Soviet Union, has been working closely with government officials and event organizers to ensure that Chabad’s programs and offerings are seamlessly incorporated into visitors’ experiences.
Two Temporary Centers Near the Games
In addition to the three-story Jewish Community Center located in the city center, Edelkopf says there will be two temporary Chabad Houses strategically placed throughout the region.
One will be at the Krasnaya Polyana Marriot, centrally located in the heart of the ski resort 60 kilometers from central Sochi, which will serve as the site of the snow events.
The other temporary Chabad House will be located just outside the Olympic Park, on the coast of the Black Sea. It will be within walking distance of the Olympic Village and the indoor competitions, such as skating and curling, as well as the international broadcasting center.
The facilities have fully functioning synagogues for prayers, Torah lectures, Jewish information centers and, of course, kosher food and Shabbat celebrations.
“These will be places where visitors will instantly feel at home,” says Edelkopf. “We will have fully functioning synagogues for prayers, Torah lectures, Jewish information centers and, of course, kosher food and Shabbat celebrations.”
Islands of Spiritual Calm
With visitors coming from all corners of the globe (there will be athletes representing more than 90 nations at the event), the centers will be staffed by a dozen rabbinic interns, selected for their leadership experience and ability to operate under stress, as well as for their command of multiple languages.
The centers will also be fully stocked with kosher supplies, Shabbat candles, Jewish literature in different languages, prayerbooks—and anything else that a Jewish athlete, media representative or visitor may want or need.
Edelkopf envisions the Chabad centers as islands of spiritual calm amid the fast-paced atmosphere of the Olympics.
Sochi's Jewish community is ready to welcome visitors from the world over. Here the community gathered recently at the dedication of a new Torah scroll.
“These will be a place of spiritual nourishment and support for anyone wishing to take a step back and get in touch with their inner selves,” he stresses. “Every person, regardless of place of origin or nationality, will be warmly embraced and welcomed.”
The rabbi estimates that his staff will prepare and serve as many as 7,000 kosher meals over the course of the two-week event. Much of the kosher food will be prepared under rabbinic supervision in the kitchens of the Ayvazovsky and Marriott hotels, which will be koshered for this purpose.
To help visitors familiarize themselves with Chabad’s offerings, a website has been created called Jewishsochi.com—replete with tourist information, service schedules, local contacts and even forms for folks to order kosher takeout or reserve food for Shabbat meals.
“People will be coming here to compete with or watch world-class athletes and enjoy themselves,” says Edelkopf. “Our goal is to make sure that their spiritual and religious needs are not only met, but actually expanded.”
Chabad will host a reception for the Israeli delegation, for Jewish sportsmen from around the world and for local community members on Thursday, Feb. 6, the day before the official opening ceremony.
For many of these ardent fans, who have been attending the games for decades, an especially poignant moment comes with the reciting of prayers in memory of the 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team, plus one German police officer, who were murdered during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany.