Frum and trending: the rab­bis on so­cial me­dia

Rab­bis in Rus­sia are us­ing so­cial me­dia to reach lo­cals wanting to re­visit their dor­mant Jewish her­itage. Se­myon Dovzhik dis­cov­ered how one pits his shul against a night­club

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE -

IN RUS­SIA, a rabbi is ex­pected to be like the coun­try: con­ser­va­tive, re­spectable and tra­di­tional. But a few pi­o­neers have been buck­ing the trend in re­cent years by us­ing so­cial me­dia to reach not only their con­gre­gants, but a much wider au­di­ence.

Rabbi Chaim Danzinger — orig­i­nally from Toronto — left a com­fort­able life a decade ago as a rabbi in Pasadena, Cal­i­for­nia to move with his wife to Ros­tovon-Don in cen­tral Rus­sia.

Home to the Chabad-Lubav­itch Cha­sidic move­ment and a large syn­a­gogue built in 1874, the city had a rich Jewish his­tory that was abruptly in­ter­rupted dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, when 27,000 Jews were mur­dered in Zmiy­ovskaya Balka, on the out­skirts of the city.

The long shadow cast by that mas­sacre and Soviet-era an­ti­semitism leads many of Ros­tov’s Jews to still keep their iden­ti­ties se­cret. Rabbi Danzinger believes that so­cial me­dia is the most ef­fec­tive tool to reach out to them.

“Rus­sia has so many proud Jews that just haven’t come out of the closet yet,” he told the JC. “There­fore, we have to adapt to the times we live in.”

He re­counted how, when he first started shar­ing short so­cial me­dia posts about Shab­bat and Jewish hol­i­days, peo­ple with Jewish fam­ily names started reach­ing out.

“After fol­low­ing me for some time they are ready to make a move and to check on the syn­a­gogue and meet the rabbi.”

This sum­mer’s World Cup, which took place in Rus­sia, presented an­other op­por­tu­nity.

“When I learned that Ros­tov was about to host some of the FIFA foot­ball games, I spot­ted an op­por­tu­nity to put Ros­tov on the world’s Jewish map once again,” he said, re­count­ing how thou­sands of Brazil­ians and Mex­i­cans were ex­pected in the city. He was sure at least a few of them would be Jews look­ing for kosher food and a place for Shab­bat din­ner.

Rabbi Danzinger rushed to the Ros­tov Arena sta­dium just before Shab­bat time and recorded a video, invit­ing all the fans to visit his syn­a­gogue a 20-minute walk away. Shared on YouTube, Face­book and Twit­ter, it went vi­ral, re­ceiv­ing nearly half-a-mil­lion views and mak­ing Rabbi Danz- in­ger a so­cial me­dia star overnight.

For him, it was not all about the clicks: over

100 foot­ball fans at­tended Ros­tov syn­a­gogue that

Shab­bat, en­liven­ing the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

Some later told him it was the most in­spir­ing Shab­bat ser­vice of their life.

There is, how­ever, an­other im­por­tant mo­ti­va­tion for Rabbi Danzinger’s so­cial me­dia pres­ence. Author­i­ties in Rus­sia have de­ported around a dozen for­eign-born rab­bis over the past decade — a great con­cern to any spir­i­tual leader work­ing in the coun­try.

“As rab­bis, the more trans­par­ent we are the bet­ter,” he said. “We are here to help peo­ple spir­i­tu­ally, to revive the Jewish life in Rus­sia. Some­times it’s hard for some­one to imag­ine why peo­ple from the States or Is­rael move to be a rabbi in Rus­sia.” But he is not the only Jewish so­cial me­dia star on the Rus­sian scene. He has strong com­pe­ti­tion from the town Voronezh, 500 kilo­me­tres north of Ros­tov, where St Peters­burg­born Avig­dor Nosikov com­petes with some re­mark­ably main­stream ri­vals for fol­low­ers. “When I am or­gan­is­ing a Kab­balat Shab­bat event, my com­peti­tors aren’t Chabad or Hil­lel — but dance clubs, cin­e­mas or other entertainment in­sti­tu­tions,” he re­vealed. “There­fore, my mar­ket­ing should not fall short of theirs.”

Rabbi Nosikov’s voronezhrabbi ac­count on In­sta­gram is def­i­nitely niche, show­ing him on the beach, on bi­cy­cles and in self­ies with sol­diers. “There are plenty of In­sta­gram ac­counts spread­ing the word of To­rah or Cha­sidic wis­dom. My goal is com­pletely dif­fer­ent. I want

I need no per­mis­sion be­cause I an­swer only to God

Avig­dor Nosikov’s In­sta­gram ac­count is more ec­cen­tric

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