GRODNO, Belarus - A group of young people from S. Petersburg, all of whom are students of the STARS business educational program, participated in an fascinating tour of Jewish communities in the northern part of Belarus.
The purpose of the visit was to acquaint the students with this once-famous center of Jewish life and to gain new insights into Judaism. The young tourists, 30 in all, were accompanied by Valery Dymshits, a well-known S. Petersburg-based Jewish historian and anthropologist, who is also an expert in Yiddish.
Among the settlements visited by the guests were Slonim, Ruzhany, Ivye, Volozhin, Rakov, Grodno and Minsk. The group visited the magnificent ancient synagogue of Grodno, which is the oldest active synagogue in the former Soviet Union and the second oldest in all of Europe. The travellers also had the opportunity to visit the houses in which Jews of these cities lived.
The group spent an unforgettable Shabbat in Grodno with the Jewish community led by Rabbi Yitzchak Kofman. Rabbi Kofman told the guests about the life and work of a prominent rabbi of the 18th century from the Grodno region, Rabbi Alexander Ziskind, who was the author of the scholarly work "Yesod V'Shoresh HaAvodah" on prayer and the festivals.
Like the STARS program in general, the trip's goal was to bring the participants closer to their Jewish roots and give them a better understanding of Jewish history in this region. The trip was made possible through the cooperation of Rabbi Dani Ash of S. Petersburg and Chief Rabbi of Grodno Yitzchak Kofman, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary serving in the region.