Gift gives Russian Jewish centre its own home

After decades of temporary locations, the Jewish Russian Community Centre finally has its own premises in the former Congregation Anshei Ozeroff.

MONTREAL — At 29, David Schottenstein is one of the most successful young entrepreneurs in the United States. His Columbus, Ohio-based custom clothing business, Astor & Black, reached annual sales of more than $20 million last year.

This online company, which he founded in 2004, has done so well that in March, the Massachusetts-based private investment company Castanea Partners announced it was making a major investment in Astor & Black, whose clients include corporate executives, professional athletes and other celebrities who appreciate the personal visits the company’s clothiers make to their offices or homes for fittings.

Although the terms were not disclosed, Castanea says it invests between $15 million and $75 million in businesses it likes.

Schottenstein celebrated the windfall by making a $500,000 donation to the Jewish Russian Community Centre of Montreal, headed by Chabad Rabbi Israel Sirota.

Why? One reason is that Schottenstein’s wife, Eda, is Rabbi Sirota’s daughter. Schottenstein himself is a graduate of the Lubavitch Oholei Torah Rabbinical Seminary in New York City.

The donation has allowed the centre, which was founded by Rabbi Sirota almost 40 years ago soon after he immigrated to Montreal from the Soviet Union, to finally have a place of its own after moving around to a series of rented premises over the decades.

The new centre is located at 5380 Bourret Ave., the former Congregation Anshei Ozeroff, which most recently housed a Jewish school, Académie Taryag Arizal.

“Everyone is very excited about this, even those who are not so religious,” said Mark Groysberg, head of the United Community of Russian-Speaking Jews of Quebec and publisher for 18 years of the Russian Jewish newspaper the Voice of the Community.

Based on government data, he thinks there are at least 20,000 Jews of Russian origin in Quebec, including a few in Sherbrooke and Quebec City, although many aren’t formally affiliated with the Jewish community.

“Even if there is only half that, it is a very big number,” said Groysberg, who immigrated from Ukraine in 1990. He believes the new centre will help bring more Russian Jews into community life.

Rabbi Sirota has been assisting his fellow Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants since he arrived here in 1973 from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and started a synagogue in his basement. He was one of the few Soviet Jews of his generation who were religious.

In addition to educating them in Jewish history and trying to kindle a spirituality that had been repressed under Communism, he saw to their practical needs providing material aid and helping them get an education or employment or just integrate into Canadian life.

In the five years after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Rabbi Sirota estimates that 10,000 Russian Jews landed in Montreal.

The establishment of the centre in permanent quarters is the culmination of a dream he never gave up on.

Many members of the Russian Jewish community have pitched in to renovate the centre, with architects, construction workers, decorators and designers lending their skills.

The centre houses not only a synagogue, but plenty of room for classes, lectures, cultural events and celebrations, including, Rabbi Sirota hopes, many weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Congregation Anshei Ozeroff, which was founded by Polish Jews, merged with Congregation Adath Israel in Hampstead in 2003. The Jewish Russian Community Centre had used space at the Anshei Ozeroff years ago.