The ongoing expansion of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union continues with three new shuls opening in time for the High Holidays, and the dedication of three new Torah scrolls to be used within them. These synagogues join 30 active Chabad Houses throughout the capital city of Moscow under the auspices of Rabbi Berel Lazar, the Chief Rabbi of Russia.
The first shul to open this month was at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, which has a sizable Jewish enrollment. It came after intensive work by Chabad-Lubavitch emissary Rabbi Shimon Krasnodomsky, who credits the new development to the dedication and participation of local students attending events throughout the year.
The second—the initial phase of a much larger project—opened its doors in the Mytischi neighborhood by rosh hakahal (community leader) Rabbi Boruch Bentzion Gorwitz, together with local emissary Rabbi Yochanan Kosenko, a graduate of the Chabad educational institutions of Moscow.
And the third, led by local emissary Rabbi Boruch Kleinberg, was established in the Sokol neighborhood, where Kleinberg has been working with Russian Jews for many years now.
The Torah scrolls were brought to their new homes in joy and celebration. Local Jewish residents had the chance to see them and hear from them during services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and say they look forward to being at the synagogues for Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, and all year long.
The world’s oldest living man, Yisrael Kristal, a Holocaust survivor who lives in Haifa, Israel, is one year older on the record books today, which marked his 113th birthday on Sept. 15.
However, on 22 Elul, which corresponds this year to Sept. 25, Kristal will be celebrating his 113th Jewish birthday (considered in mystical Jewish tradition to be akin to an annual personal Rosh Hashanah) and the still rarer distinction of it being 100 years since he began wearing tefillin during daily prayers.
In an interview with Sichat Hashavua—a weekly circular published by Chabad in Israel—Kristal said that since his 13th birthday, he has wrapped tefillin every day, except for extreme circumstances during the two great wars.
As he stated: “Instead of being acclaimed as the world’s oldest man, I’d rather be known as the oldest and longest daily wearer of tefillin in the world.”
He was recognized as the world’s oldest man in March.
Kristal was born in Zarnow, Poland, on 22 Elul 5663 (Sept. 15, 1903). His mother passed away when he was 7 years old. His father was drafted into the Russian army during World War I and subsequently killed, leaving Yisrael on his own at the young age of 11. However, his father had provided him a solid traditional Jewish education, and that helped him remain a man of deep faith and religious commitment throughout his life.
His 13th Jewish birthday, ordinarily celebrated as a joyous milestone, passed without fanfare due to the war. Yet, like generations of Jewish men before him, he began wearing tefillin every weekday, with the exception of Shabbat and holidays.
One hundred years later, some 100 family members and friends will gather for a private belated bar mitzvah in which they will sing, dance and wish him a hearty “mazal tov.”