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"Let my people go, so that they may serve Me."  Exodus 7:16

FREE’s Historic Photo section provides telling images that capture important “firsts” in FREE’s history. The Historic Photo section is updated daily in order to provide visitors with a varied retrospective.

In an effort to free jews living behind the iron curtain, Jewish leaders the world over raised the cry, "Let My people go."  When Russian Jews were permitted to leave the country of their birth and immigrate to lands granting religious freedom, the Lubavitcher Rebbe urged us not to forget the second half of the verse, "so that they may serve Me."  Heading this call, Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe - FREE, was formed, with branches in the USA, Canada, and Europe.

In 1990, the Detroit branch of FREE was established under the leadership of Rabbi Melech Silberberg, with Rabbi Yosef Misholovin serving as spiritual leader, mentor and counselor.  Through the support of our caring and generous community, Soviet Jews in Detroit are reclaiming their heritage.

 

 

 

Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe

 

History

Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe (FREE) was founded in 1969 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. It was led by a group of young ex-Soviet “partisans” to cater to the broad range of needs of Jewish refugees from the Former Soviet Union. FREE has helped tens of thousands of these Jews, who often arrived in the U.S. with nothing but the clothes on their back, and precious little else.

FREE has continued to reach out to these Jews, feeding their bodies and nourishing their souls through housing, rent, medical and employment assistance, and education in Torah and Mitzvot. Serving as the first such Organization in the United States, FREE has become America’s largest Jewish organization serving Russian immigrants with their spiritual and material needs.

Governments fall, the map is rearranged, but Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe never stops responding to the call of the Jewish soul. Indeed, Jewish continuity is not an item on our agenda. It is our agenda.

History
After the First World War and the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Eastern European Jewish communities plunged into a chaotic and frightening era. There was a major disruption in the traditional Torah educational system. Religious education was banned by communist law, the practice of Judaism was systematically blocked, and those Jews who continued to observe Torah suffered severe consequences. Even with great courage, observance of the commandments such as Shabbat, kashrut and circumcision became virtually impossible for the traditional Jewish masses. [continue]

Accomplishments
Three decades is not much time in the context of Jewish history. Yet during the three short decades of FREE's existence, a heroic effort has taken place to revitalize what the Communists destroyed.
Starting from a rented room and a handful of dedicated volunteers, FREE has grown quickly, and continues to grow, in order to handle the increasing influx of Russian Jews coming to America. Over the years, continually adopting one project after another, FREE services have expanded to help all aspects of the lives of the Russian Jews.

1969:
• The FREE Social & Humanitarian Services Division was established,
sending volunteers to visit refugees and assess their material needs. Volunteers assisted refugees in finding apartments, arranging English classes, obtaining employment, and providing them with basic necessities such as furniture and clothing.
• The Adult Education Division, also formed at this time, providing regular classes in basic Judaism for refugees.

1970:
• FREE established the first Jewish-Russian High School in the United States on 711 Eastern Parkway, across the street from the Lubavitch World Headquarters. Over 2500 students have been enrolled in FREE High School to date.

1971:
• FREE initiated its Holiday Awareness Campaign (HAC) to arrange large celebrations for Jewish holidays. HAC would provide transportation for refugees all around the New York Metropolitan area to attend these gatherings, which were first held at the grand ballroom auditorium of the Crown Heights Yeshiva on Crown Street (presently the Beis Rivkah Girls High School).
• FREE established the worlds first Modern Jewish Publishing House, to accommodate Russian speakers with Russian-language Jewish books. Over forty publications on all different aspects of Judaism have been published to date.

1972:
Camp FREE - Gan Israel was established to provide a safe, fun environment for children from immigrant families to enjoy their summer in a rich and fullfilling Jewish atmosphere. To date, over eleven thousand children have spent their summers at Camp FREE.
Circumcisions, forbidden in the Soviet Union, were performed for both child and adult refugees. Arrangements were made with the local hospitals to carry out these procedures. Over 12,900 circumcisions have been performed to date.

1973:
• FREE purchased its first building, located at 1383 President Street. This building houses the first Russian synagogue established in the United States, as well as the offices of FREE Headquarters.
• FREE Adult Education Division established a Russian Jewish library to assist the Russian speaking population explore the depth of their rich heritage.
• FREE Social & Humanitarian Services Division established the Kosher Food Campaign. Newly arrived refugees were provided two sets of vessels, for meat and for dairy, were provided. Furthermore, with the help of major kosher abattoirs, FREE distributed kosher chicken to refugees on a weekly basis from different pick up locations.
• FREE founded its branch in Chicago, Illinois - FREE of Chicago - to assist the newly arrived immigrants in the region.

1974:
• FREE established the first Russian Jewish Elementary School in the United States, located on the new President Street premises. To date, over 4500 students have been enrolled.
• FREE Social & Humanitarian Services Division expanded its activities to distribution of used clothing and furniture. A warehouse on the Lower East Side of Manhattan was obtained to help distribute these items. To date, over 5,000 families have taken advantage of the clearinghouse to help clothe their children and furnish their new surroundings.
• FREE held its first gala Bar Mitzvah Ceremony at Camp FREE - Gan Israel, located in Parksvill, New York.

1975:
• FREE founded its branch in Baltimore, Maryland - FREE of Baltimore.
• Renowned tenor Jan Peerce, FREE’s distinguished late president, held his first FREE benefit concert at the Alice Tully Hall of New York.

1978:
• FREE Adult Education Division sent its first mobile home, carrying four FREE Rabbis, on a cross-country, 20,000-mile trip. They visited newly arrived Russian immigrants in sixty-three major cities.

1979:
• FREE founded its branch in Detroit, Michigan - FREE of Michigan.

1980:
• FREE launched a special fund to create new grades for children from age five to eight, as well as additional classes for older children. This was prompted by the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s call for the expansion of FREE’s school in the memory of Rabbi Dovid Okunov, o.b.m., who had been tragically murdered that same year.
• FREE founded its branch in Melbourne, Australia - FREE of Melbourne.

1981:
• The FREE Youth Club was founded for public school youth. Various exciting programs were launched to provide young adults with an interest and attraction to Jewish education. To date, over eight hundred teenagers have been active members of the Youth Club.

1982:
• FREE Holiday Awareness Campaign received government permits to organize its first public Sukkot celebration. This took place on the famed Brooklyn Brighton Beach boardwalk.

1983:
• FREE Anti-Missionary Campaign was founded to alert Russian parents to the grave danger of their children being lured by Christian Missionaries to attend missionary schools, summer camps, and after school programs.

1984:
• FREE opened a summer day camp in Brooklyn, located at 841 Ocean Parkway. This provided an attractive summer venue for boys who were unable to attend the FREE overnight camp.

1988:
• FREE established Project Chomesh, a Sunday school program providing Jewish education to young Russian girls. Chomesh is an acronym for Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneersohn, as it was formed the year of the Rebbetzin’s passing.
• FREE founded its branch in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, New York - FREE of Brighton Beach.

1989:
• FREE Adult Education Division and FREE Social & Humanitarian Services Division launched a new project - an accredited English Academy. Its purpose was to facilitate the absorption of the new waves of immigrants after the fall of Communism. English classes were provided in over fifty locations throughout the United States.
• FREE founded its branch in Sydney, Australia - FREE of Sydney.

1992:
• FREE Holiday Awareness Campaign reached a milestone, having printed fifty thousand holiday guides. These guides described the Mitzvot and customs of the holidays. They were distributed throughout the United States.
• FREE founded its branch in Niles, Illinois - FREE of Niles.

1993:
• FREE Circumcision Program reached the historical milestone of performing its ten thousandth circumcision. FREE celebrated by holding a dinner at the Brooklyn Interfaith Medical Center Lauria Auditorium.
• FREE founded its branch in Cincinnati, Ohio - FREE of Ohio.

2000:
• FREE Holiday Awareness Campaign was granted permission by the Dime Savings Bank of Brighton Beach Ave. to set up a permanent, year-round, twenty- foot menorah outside the bank.

2002:
• FREE launches a new After School Program in Brighton Beach.
• FREE Adult Education Division arranged with the Novoye Russkoye Slovo, America’s largest Russian-language newspaper, to feature FREE’s Jewish Heritage Page. Each week, it features insights into the weekly Torah portion.
• FREE founded its branch in the Rego Park section of Queens, New York - FREE of Rego Park.

2003:
• FREE opened the first Jewish day care center in Brighton Beach.
• FREE’s Publishing House launched the www.JudaisminRussian.com website. A unique Russian-language website providing extensive information on Jewish practices and observances, access to traditional Jewish texts and sources of learning, and holiday information with a handy English reference guide for Rabbis serving Russian speaking communities.
• FREE Youth Services established the M Generation Boys Choir. A Jewish Russian Boys Choir.



 

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