The Sochi Jewish community came together to cheer, cry and kvell as they welcomed the Israeli delegation to the 2014 Winter Olympics.
“It was our way of showing support to our fellow Jews who had arrived from Israel,” says Alexander Feldman, a member of the Sochi Jewish community who chaired the event. “From speaking to the delegates, it is clear to me that it means a lot to them to know that wherever they go, they are among fellow Jews who care for them and pray for them.”
He points out that—with the exception of 19-year-old alpine skier Virgile Vandeput, who was born in Belgium—the entire delegation was Russian-speaking, making it very easy for the local community and the visiting sportsmen to connect.
The Feb. 9 reception, held in the newly constructed Azimut Hotel in Adler, began with greetings by Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar. He pointed out—with no small measure of pride—how much the local community has grown and progressed in the 12 years since they were joined by Chabad representatives Rabbi Ari and Chani Edelkopf.
Following a moment for silence, Lazar and Vladimir Shklyar, leader of the Israeli Olympic delegation, lit two candles in memory of the 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team, as well as one German police officer, who were murdered during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany.
Lazar then chanted the Kaddish memorial prayer, and Rabbi Edelkopf solemnly read the names of the victims.
Rabbi Berel Lazar, the chief rabbi of Russia, helped Vladimir Shklyar, leader of the Israeli Olympic delegation, put on tefillin for the first time.
Edelkopf says that an exceptionally emotional moment for him was seeing Lazar help Shklyar put on tefillin and say the Shema prayer, something the tearful Shklyar remarked he had not done before. He also asked the local Jewish community to pray for the success and safety of the delegation.
Jaffa Olivitsky, Israel’s attaché on culture, sport and science in the Russian Federation, noted the Jewish unity that the event portended and discussed the strong bond shared by all Jews, both those in Israel and those in the diaspora.
On the lighter side, Russian-Jewish tenor Telman Guzhevky sang the 1967 Israeli classic “Jerusalem of Gold” and other songs, and a 20-voice choir from the local Jewish school regaled the crowd with “Hava Nagila.”
“It was a truly emotional experience for everyone, and the unity was palpable,” says Edelkopf. “But we are only beginning. There are thousands of other Jewish people visiting our city, and in the days ahead, we look forward bringing them together in so many ways.”
From left: Rabbi Dovid Katz, Rabbi JJ Hecht and Rabbi Chaim Landa with Israeli alpine skiier Virgile Vandeput.
A large crowd turned out to welcome the Israeli delegation.