By merit of reading this piece, I assume that you have some interest in Jewish life in Moscow. I came to Moscow June 2012 to study with SRAS’s Russian as a Second Language Program at Moscow State (MGU) without any knowledge of the local community. This list represents the culmination of my observations over the course of two months. While there, I kept a strictly kosher diet and spent each weekend with a different rabbi for the Sabbath. If you are similarly observant you will likely find this information helpful, but even if not I am sure that you will find something of use or interest. Moscow is already a foreign city for you; depending on your perspective, the Jewish community can offer you an experience even more exotic, or perhaps one closer to home.
This directory of sorts is a rough guide to Jewish infrastructure in Moscow, which by far is the most developed of the former Soviet Union. There are approximately 100,000 Jews in this city, about half of Russia’s Jewish population. Jewish settlement in Moscow did not begin until the mid-nineteenth century, but there is nonetheless a good deal of history to discuss. Learn about the past and see the present at one of the many synagogues or at the new Museum of Jewish History in Russia. Grab a nosh at one of the kosher restaurants and eateries scattered throughout the city. Russian Jews are very cosmopolitan and interested in the world beyond Russia, so get to know some and learn about their stories.
Make what you will of this information. If you have any questions, you can get in contact with me and I would be happy to answer them. Jewish life today in Russia is flourishing, and Moscow lies at the center of this renaissance. Check it out during your time here and be pleasantly surprised.
Table of Contents
Moscow now has about 20 synagogues, though many of these are small and located in districts SRAS students would not likely visit. That said, synagogues definitely worth checking out include:
This is a small community located five minutes from Universitet Station. They have Sabbath and holiday services, educational programs, and a kosher café. MGU students are part of the intended audience. The manager, Rabbi Mamash Skalka, who hosted me for four weeks, would be more than happy to reach out to SRAS students living at or near MGU.
Address: Проспект Вернадского, 11/19, вход со двора между 3 и 4 подъездами
(11/19 Vernadskiy Prospekt, entry from the courtyard between doors 3 and 4)
Telephone: +7 (985) 767-39-17
Moscow Jewish Community Center
(Московский Еврейский Общиный Центр; Moskovskiy Yevreyskiy Obshchinyy Tsentr)
Located in Marina Roscha, this place never rests, with multiple daily services, two kosher restaurants (one meat, one dairy), and a plethora of educational and social programs. The community is an eclectic mix of Russian Jews, both religious and secular, with a large number of Israelis and Anglos. One needs no appointment to visit, though you should call ahead to organize a tour or info session, which they can happily arrange.
Address: 2-й Вышеславцев переулок, 5а (5a Vtoroy Vyshelavtsev Pereulok)
Telephone: +7 (495) 645-50-00
Moscow Choral Synagogue
(Московская Хоральная Синагога; Moskovskaya Khoral’naya Sinagoga)
Located in Kitai Gorod, this is probably the synagogue that tourists visit the most, not the least thanks to its neoclassical front and beautiful 19th-century interior. It has daily services, some educational programs, and a restaurant. Unlike most synagogues in Moscow, which follow Chabad or Sephardic traditions, the MCS follows the older Ashkenazic rite. They are very eager here to give you a tour of the synagogue and discuss Jewish history in Moscow; if you are planning to one such event, this should be the place.
Address: Большой Спасоглинищевский переулок, 10 (10 Bol’shoy Spasoglinishchevskiy Pereulok)
Telephone: +7 (495) 940-55-57
Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue
(Синагога на Большой Бронной; Sinagoga na Bol’shoy Bronnoy)
I do not know so much about this place except that it is quite old, has daily services, and was the site of multiple antisemitic attacks over the years. On a lighter note, the rooftop restaurant has terrific Georgian food.
Address: Большая Бронная улица, 6/3 (6/3 Bol’shaya Bronnaya Ulitsa)
Telephone: +7 (495) 695-76-45
Moscow Center for Progressive Judaism
(Моcковской Общины Современного Иудаизма; Moskovskoy Obshiny Sovremennogo Iudaisma)
Holds services on Fridays and Saturdays as well as sponsors a lot of family-friendly activities.
Address: улица Аргуновская, дом 3, строение 1, 4-ый этаж (3, Argunovskaya Ulitsa, building 1, 4th floor)
Telephone: +7 (495) 956-66-09
Jewish Cultural Happenings
The Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center
(Еврейский Музей и Центр Толерантности; Yevreyskiy Muzey i Tsentr Tolerantnosti)
This opened after I left Moscow, but everyone was excited about it opening. President Putin made an official visit, and all Moscow schoolchildren will make a field trip there at least once. They have many interesting exhibits, including a reconstructed shtetl.
Address: улица Образцова, 11, строение 1А (11 Obraztsova Ulitsa, Builiding 1A)
Telephone: +7 (495) 645-05-50
Avi Chai FSU (Ави-Хай)
This organization and its offshoots offer educational and cultural programs about Jewish history and traditions throughout the FSU, with much of their activity in Moscow. Their two most active subsidiaries are Booknik and Eshkolot, which run a variety of events throughout the city, such as book fair and outdoor concerts. These are great venues to meet Jewish Muscovites, particularly students and other young adults.
This is largely an organization to help Jewish travelers in Moscow. The director, Rabbi Yaakov Klein, a Brooklynite who has lived in Russia for over a decade, was very friendly to me in getting oriented and took the time to tell me about the Moscow community in great detail. Read their website and contact him if you have any questions.
Address: 2-й Вышеславцев переулок 5а (5a Vtoroy Vyshelavtsev Pereulok)
Telephone: +7 (495) 768-73-92
A. Dining Out
The following restaurants are under the supervision of the Chief Rabbinate of Russia, save Rimon, which is under the auspices of the Moscow Choral Synagogue. Be sure to call any restaurant before visiting to ensure it is open. Note that all of these places are closed for the Sabbath from before Friday sundown until after Saturday nightfall; this applies similarly for any weekday holidays.
A meat restaurant located inside the Moscow Choral Synagogue. Overall, this is a warm and quiet place to get a well-priced, traditional Russian-Jewish meal. Please read the review for more details.
Address: Большой Спасоглинищевский переулок 10 (10 Bol’shoy Spasoglinishchevskiy Pereulok)
Telephone: +7 (499) 623-50-12
A meat restaurant located on the roof of the Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue. The view is great and the food is amazing. They have a lot of Georgian dishes, reflecting the congregation’s background.
Address: Большая Бронная улица 6
Telephone: +7 (495) 690-63-66
This is very much a dairy restaurant. This café is almost like any other Shokoladnitsa (a chain of Starbucks-like coffee houses), except that this particular location lacks meat dishes on the menu and has subtle Jewish vibes. This is probably the best place to get kosher bliny and syrniki, besides getting an invitation to someone’s house. Note: this is the only Shokoladnitsa kosher location in the city.
Address: Садовая-Кудринская улица 32/1 (32/1 Sadovaya-Kudrinskaya Ulitsa)
Telephone: +7 (499) 623-50-12
Check out this pop culture guide (in Russian, but the listings are easy to figure out) to find several more Kosher restaurants in Moscow.
B. Dining In
As for buying kosher food, here is a rough guide that is by no means comprehensive or authoritative. Consult with a local Russian rabbi for details. The following are kosher without any special supervision:
- raw fruits and vegetables
- dried fruits (save raisins) and nuts
- pure fruit juices (save grape juice)
- uncooked pasta containing only flour and eggs
- plain vodka and beer, coffee and tea
The following items require a hechsher and can be purchased in kosher stores (e.g., Pardes and Mehadrin in Marina Roscha, located on the same block as the JCC) and, in the case of dairy and fish, large supermarkets such as Auchan and Alyie Parusa. The most common hechsher is the Rabbinate’s КР (кошерная Россия), though you may see Israeli or American ones:
- dairy products: milk, yogurt, tvorog, cheese, and kefir
- fish products, except for whole salmon filets, or if you can see a scale attached to skin
- baked goods (unless they appear on the aforementioned list)
- meat products
- cooked items
Basic cooking utensils can be purchased at a reasonable price from Auchan. The JCC has a mikveh for the utensils that require immersion.
In short, antisemitism still exists today in Russia, though it is significantly less problematic than it was just 20 years ago. Putin’s United Russia party probably has something to do with this, with its focus on federalism and national unity. Since large cities such as Moscow and Petersburg have diverse and cosmopolitan populations the residents are used to seeing Jews; in smaller cities or villages, there will undoubtedly be some curiosity, though hostility would be unusual. It is probably a good idea to exercise caution by avoiding seedy areas, traveling alone at night, and not to say or do things that might cause a violent reaction. That said, one should not feel like one has to hide a kippah or Magen David necklace. For the one antisemitic remark I got over two months (“zhid,” a Russian word used to refer unkindly to Jews, which was said to me by a drunk man), I got many more kind words from local Jews proud to see their kinsman on the street, or from friendly Gentiles. Undoubtedly, being Jewish in Russia is safer than ever before. I would strongly encourage visitors to see it for themselves.