Americans are loud. We're brash and busy, and we like our Judaism that way as well.
Russians also have their bravado . . . but when it comes to religion, there is a certain simplicity, a certain wholeness of the heart and soul, which we Americans lack.

There has been much made in the press about Chabad's success in the Former Soviet Union. Whatever the cause may be, in part it is not just due to Chabad's own efforts but also due to the perception of the locals on how Judaism ought to be.

No matter their walk of life, or level of personal observance, many of the locals wish to see Judaism in its pure state – unadulterated by politics and agendas. They want Torahs and Tefillin, Schnapps and Herring, Hebrew and Yiddish.

Since I am an American, and thus gifted with that proud sense of pomp and bombast which our manifest destiny has blessed us with (and it's a good thing, don't doubt me), I immediately noticed the Americans who came into the S. Petersburg Synagogue.

I noticed the Israelis as well – they all had skipper caps and spoke in loud, thick Hebrew, asking questions but not patient enough to hear the answers.

I noticed the Mexican Jews as well: large families sporting spiked hair and Jewish bling – golden Stars of David and Hamsas, proud to be a Jewish minority in Mexico City – the most densely populated city in the world.

I would notice the British, the South Africans, the Australians and the Italians . . . and the French. How could one forget the French?

But of the Russian Jew, of the local who weathered the fire of Nazism, the ice of Communism, and then the gradual thaw (and resulting chaos) of the fall of a political system so great that none had fathomed that such a day would arrive in their lifetimes? Of this brave soul, sojourner of the cataclysmic tides of history of which he sat in the eye of the storm? Of him I sadly did not take notice.

At first.

But as time has gone by, when I've turned away from the questions of the Americans ('Is there Anti-Semitism?') and the Israelis ('Do You speak Hebrew?), I noticed the local Jews who come to their synagogue.

They come. The young – clad in western blue-jeans and stylish shirts, the old – with weathered jackets and battered caps or Babushkas, and they pray. They take out a book of Psalms, or a prayerbook, and they sit in the solitude of their synagogue – one that sheltered them during the German siege and was open during the darkest days of Communism.

They pray in silence, the silence of the soul that calls out to G‑d not in words, not pompous voices, or even roaring tears, but the utter silence of the soul as it communes with its Creator in a way so deep, so whole and so real, that words, even sacred ones, would pervert it as sacrilegious.

And when they are done, they kiss their prayerbooks, tucking them safely aside in the shelves behind the pews, and leave.

I notice them. And I am in awe.