The Jewish community of Russia is one of the largest Jewish communities in the world. In addition to Moscow and St. Petersburg, there are several dozen Jewish communities of more than 1,000 people.
Until the middle of the 19th century, there were few Jews in Russian cities. The bulk of “Russian Jewry” was limited to a small territory, consisting of modern Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Lithuania, and Poland.
Many Jews from Belarus and Ukraine settled in Russia during the Soviet period. The majority of the Jewish population was concentrated in the large cities, which provided the greatest opportunities for education and professional development.
The Soviet authorities officially recognized the Jews as a national group entitled to their own cultural institutions. Nevertheless, the observance of Jewish traditions was persecuted, and those who continued to conduct some kind of Jewish activity, despite all prohibitions, were subjected to severe repression.
During the Second World War, repression was weakened, Jews played an important role in the war, both at the front and in military production. Although most of the Soviet Jewry was destroyed in the Shoah, many of those who live in Russia, especially in Moscow and Leningrad, survived.
Immediately after the war, the campaign to persecute Soviet Jewry was resumed. Only Stalin’s death in 1953 saved Soviet Jewry from even greater oppression. Soon after, many of the prisoners in the Gulag, including tens of thousands of Jews, were released.
Although the situation has improved, Jewish culture continued to be in decline. Jewish religious articles and books were smuggled into the country, clandestine educational and religious groups were created, but the overwhelming majority of Soviet Jews did not have the opportunity to participate in these meetings.
Many Jews who engaged in such activities, the so-called refuseniks, were imprisoned and denied the right to leave the country. In the 1980s, emigration was again limited. With the coming to power of Mikhail Gorbachev, most of the prohibitions were abolished, and the post-Soviet aliyah began.
At present, in all major cities in Russia, there are synagogues and community centers, which organize the celebration of Shabbat and Jewish holidays in all canons. In many cities, there are kindergartens, general schools, universities. Kosher food is available.