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Bringing the Joy of Shabbat to the Residents of Montefiore Homes

By Sarah Bendetsky

On 11-12 November, the world marked the International Shabbat Project with thousands of Shabbat dinners, challah baking nights and Havdallah concerts.

Volunteers from a grassroots organisation Subbotnik joined forces to bring the Shabbat joy to the elderly residents of Montefiore Homes in Melbourne. With a myriad of Shabbat Project events in the community, the Subbotnik Shabbat dinner at Montefiore was truly special.

“Close to 70% of Montefiore residents were born in the former Soviet Union where celebrating Jewish holidays such as Shabbat and observing a Jewish lifestyle was made impossible for over seven decades,” Subbotnik’s co-founder, Avi Bendetsky, said. “Today, when older people participate in the Jewish activities in Australia, it brings back the memories of their childhood before their connection to Jewish roots was so abruptly cut by the communist regime.”

On Friday, Subbotnik volunteers and their families arrived at Montefiore with a variety of traditional Russian kosher delicacies, including Russian potato salad and Eastern-European fruit compote, which they cooked up at St Kilda Shule, to the delight of over 100 Montefiore residents.

Following the candle lighting ceremony, volunteers sat around the dining room with the seniors and spent a great time meeting each other, speaking about Shabbat, immigration, raising families in USSR and Australia and sharing jokes and memories.

At the end of the night, many friendships were formed. The youngest volunteers, aged 3 to 13, promised to come back during school holidays while their parents suggested developing a visiting program called Adopt a Grandparent.

Bill Appleby, CEO Jewish Care, said: “We were extremely pleased to host volunteers from Subbotnik for Shabbos at Montefiore; a young, dynamic organisation doing so much good for the Russian-speaking Jewish community members. At Jewish Care, we look forward to establishing new meaningful partnerships with organisations and community groups aiming to enrich the wellbeing of the people we support.”

Alona Krapivin, a devoted Subbotnik organiser, said: “Even though it’s very important to plan for the future, it’s equally important to remember the past and respect our seniors. The elderly people have been through so much during their lifetime and have extraordinary experience and wisdom to share. It’s not hard to show appreciation and spend time with the elderly and it’s up to us to pass these values to our children. We believe that there is no future without the past.”

Subbotnik expresses its tremendous gratitude to volunteers, supporters and friends including: Alona and Ariel Krapivin, Alina Zamel-Well and Sam Well, Avi Bendetsky, Sheina and Arthur Shisman, Lucy Zoubkova, Dosia Sinyavker, Marina Prostakova, Anna Gontmakher, David and Dorina Portnoi, Raisa Begun-Bolotnikova, Moshe Levit, Rabbi Ronnie Figdor and the St Kilda Hebrew Congregation, Alona’s Catering, BAS & MORE Bookkeeping and Virtual CFO Services, Margarita’s Loans and Finances, the Australian Forum of Russian-Speaking Jewry, and Jewish Care’s CEO, Bill Appleby, Rabbi Yisroel Kohn, Dalia Siegel and the entire Jewish Care’s team!

View more event photos on our Facebook page.