The CEO and Vice President of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe, Rabbi Arie Goldberg and Rabbi Yosef Bainhaker, recently paid an impressive visit to faraway Kazakhstan, where they inaugurated two new branches of the European Chesed Centre, established at the initiative of the RCE. The centers will serve the hundreds of Jews who live there and need both financial and humanitarian assistance.
One Chesed Centre was inaugurated in Almaty; the ceremony was attended by the Rabbi of Kazakhstan, Rabbi Yeshaya Cohen, and Rabbi Elchanan Cohen, the Rabbi of Almaty. The second centre was inaugurated in Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan; it is directed by Rabbi Shmuel Karnoach, who has served in the rabbinate of the city for 11 years and is heavily involved in all Jewish matters. Rabbi Yeshaya Cohen and Rabbi Elchanan Cohen participated in the inauguration of this Chesed Centre as well, along with the rabbis and Jews of the area. The Israeli ambassador to Kazakhstan, Mr. Edwin Nathan Yabu Glossman, also attended, and warmly congratulated the rabbis and the heads of the centre for the blessed initiative.
Over the past two years, 28 branches of the European Chesed Centre have been established by the RCE as part of the mission to open 50 centers for medical equipment loaning in 50 cities in Europe for Jews who face difficult challenges. The project began operating shortly after the outbreak of COVID-19 as in initiative to provide assistance to European Jews in need of medical equipment. Each branch includes medical equipment for needs ranging from the age of birth to the elderly. Each centre that opens is welcome news for the Jews of that region in Europe.
While in Kazakhstan, the heads of the RCE had the opportunity to participate in a moving, if not surprising, event. An 82-year-old Jewish resident decided to undergo a circumcision and enter the covenant of Avraham Avinu. Rabbi Arie Goldberg served as the sandak and was very moved at the observance of the important mitzvah. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when the Jew asked to be called Yosef, after one of his grandfathers who passed away decades ago.
After the emotional brit and the opening of the Chesed centers in Kazakhstan, we were able to speak to the Chief Rabbi of Kazakhstan, Rabbi Yeshaya Cohen, who recounted how it all began about thirty years ago: “I came here on Pesach 5774 together with my friend Rabbi Yaakov Meir Kubichek, who is currently serving as a shaliach in Saratov, Russia. At the time, we were students at a yeshiva in Manchester, England, and we had gone on a short shlichut before the holidays. I entered the local synagogue in Kazakhstan one Shabbat. One was reading the Chumash, another looked at the Sefer Torah, and the person who was called up to the Torah gave a donation on the spot, in the middle of the holiday. At that moment I decided to make a change in the place, and indeed, today there are already three synagogues in the city, and the revitalization is felt everywhere. There are six cities with synagogues here; you can feel the Judaism.
“The beginning was very difficult. I came here with Rabbi Kubichek. I had a notebook in which we wrote down the names of the community members. We made home visits, and that’s how we got to know the residents, and slowly brought them closer to Judaism.
“I was a young man at the yeshiva in Manchester at the time, when Rabbi Yosef Akiva Cohen, the head of the Manchester Lubavitch yeshiva, gave a speech at a meeting in the yeshiva, and spoke a lot about shlichut. I remember the moments when I promised myself that immediately after yeshiva I would dedicate myself to shlichut. It was not a question of whether I would leave; rather, it was when would I go and where would I serve as a shaliach. After some time, I received an offer to serve as a shaliach and I immediately accepted it. Rabbi Yosef Akiva Cohen explained to me that there had been no shaliach in Kazakhstan for 11 years, after the previous shaliach, who worked underground because of Russian prohibitions, had passed away.”
Rabbi Cohen wistfully recalls those days. “In early 1994, we held a large camp for youth, at the end of which we performed 25 britot with the consent of their parents. It was a good start. After that I got married and returned with my wife. To this day, the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe resonate in my mind: He said that a shaliach never goes alone, we are all accompanied by the power of the one who has sent us. This is so much more so here, since the Rebbe’s father is buried here.
“When we came here there was an existing synagogue that was open two hours a week, only for Shabbat prayers. Apart from that there was no Jewish activity. We got acquainted with the community, and got in touch with the local Jews. Slowly, we succeeded; Judaism here grew and developed, and that’s how we are now able to see the success of all the years of investment here.”
Rabbi Cohen becomes excited when he speaks about the special brit that took place in Kazakhstan during the visit of RCE leaders. “It was truly Hashgacha pratit, that just when he wanted to have his brit, the heads of the RCE were here. It was an exciting and thrilling moment to see an 82-year-old consent to have a brit with such mesirus nefesh. This moment made it clear to me that we have been victorious; light has triumphed over darkness.”
After the opening of the Chesed Centres, Rabbi Cohen expressed his heartfelt appreciation to the would like to thank from the bottom of his heart the heads of the RCE, the chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the CEO Rabbi Arie Goldberg, and the vice president, Rabbi Yossi Bainhaker, who dedicate themselves 24/7 for Jews, wherever they are. “I am moved by the modesty of the heads of the RCE. They do great things, quietly. Take as an example the opening of the chesed centers in Kazakhstan. This is an unprecedented initiative, it will greatly help the Jews here, in a way that I cannot explain in words. That is exactly the essence of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe, which always puts the welfare of the Jews of Europe as a top priority.”
The Chesed Centres will provide humanitarian assistance to all the Jews of Kazakhstan both in times of distress, and in happy situations, where new mothers need assistance with their infants. This will be especially helpful in a place like Kazakhstan, whose Jews face numerous challenges.
The Chief Rabbi of Kazakhstan says that the RCE’s dedication to the Rabbis in Europe is extraordinary. “The rabbis throughout Europe receive constant assistance from the heads of the RCE, with the aim of illuminating the spiritual darkness that exists here.”