Hundreds of visiting Russian Jewish students danced, sang and clapped in the Piazza yesterday, joined by leading figures of the local community.
As music blared across John Mackintosh Square, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo locked arms with the Chief Rabbi of Russia, Berel Lazar, in a traditional Jewish dance and then took ‘selfies’ with the revellers.
Around 600 Jewish students arrived in Gibraltar yesterday as part of a tour across Europe visiting various cities. The attendees were described as the ‘cream of the crop’ from universities and colleges in 32 cities across Russia.
The students enjoyed their time on the Rock with a party in the centre of town. Their traditional Jewish dancing contrasted against the European pop music in the background, providing quite the show for confused passers-by.
This is not the first time Rabbi Lazar has visited the Rock, but yesterday he gave a speech from the balcony of the City Hall alongside Mr Picardo, President of the Gibraltar Jewish Community James Levy, and Rabbi of Gibraltar Roni Hassid who also addressed the crowd. Mayor of Gibraltar Adolfo Canepa attended the event.
“Just two days ago we visited Auschwitz and we saw the horror and the suffering of the Jewish people,” Rabbi Lazar said in his address.
“Today here in Gibraltar we see the hospitality and the kindness that this community has done throughout the world.”
During the speeches the students cheered, applauded, and danced hiked up on their friends shoulders, in an event which lasted over an hour.
“It is fantastic to have you here,” Mr Picardo said. “Gibraltar opens its heart to you. Gibraltar is a place of hospitality and welcoming and today the young Jewish people of Russia. Gibraltar is a place not just of religious tolerance but of religious respect, affection and love between religious communities.”
Mr Picardo then told the visitors ‘Shabbat Shalom’ meaning to wish someone a peaceful Sabbath. Mr Levy also welcomed the students and it said was wonderful for them to visit Gibraltar, and Rabbi Hassid spoke about what it meant to be Jewish.
“This trip is a year-long project with these young students who are active in the community, and have done voluntary work, teaching, organising youth groups,” Rabbi Lazar told the Chronicle. “They are the best of the best.”
The students have visited Spain to see how the Jewish community was destroyed there. Rabbi Lazar felt a visit to Gibraltar was needed as the youngsters needed to see the Rocks Jewish community and how much of a revolution was made in Gibraltar.
“[Gibraltar] is a beautiful community, with hospitality, kindness, openness, and that is something that is very important for us with these young people which we believe are the future of Russia.”
He added that many of the youths had never seen Jewish communities outside of Russia, and hopes this experience will help them regain Jewish pride.
“This is a group of young people who don’t have much connection to Judaism and the Lubavitch movement, which is an international movement about bringing people closer to religion,” Mr Levy said. “There are 600 of them, and they are doing a tour of Spain. Whenever a Jewish group is doing a tour of Spain they always come to Gibraltar.”
Before arriving on the Rock, the group visited Auschwitz, Madrid, Barcelona, and Malaga. The students spent the day travelling around the Rock, visiting the Upper Rock area and town.
“We are very, very pleased to have them, they are young people,” Mr Levy said.
“They are very warm, I have mixed with them, and they were all taking selfies with the Chief Minister, with the Rabbi, and with myself. They are very happy to be here and we are very happy to have them.”