Appreciating a Friend of Chabad KazakhstanAs the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah approaches, Chabad Emissary to Astana, Kazakhstan Rabbi Shmuel Karnoach took time out of his hectic schedule to talk with us about the relationship that has developed between him and businessman Gil Smolinski.
The large Hanukkiah that will soon be installed once again in city center is perhaps the most visible symbol of Smolinski’s contribution to the Jewish community of Astana. But Rabbi Karnoach says that there is so much more to the story. Smolinski has become an integral part of the Chabad mission in Astana.
Helping to Reignite the Jewish Community of AstanaAstana ,the capital of Kazakhstan, is probably one of the most remote Jewish communities in the world. After decades of living under harsh Soviet rule and antisemitism, only a few identifiable Jews live in the city. Rabbi Karnoach observes that intermarriage and assimilation have compounded the problem of Jewish identity.
“Reigniting the Jewish spark has been the primary mission of our work here,” the Rabbi says, “and we cannot do it alone.”
Rabbi Karnoach returns to the story of the menorah. He explains that while it may seem like a small thing, the Hanukkiah that Smolinski donated to the city is for some of Astana's Jews the only connection they have to their religion. The bright lights of the large menorah, which stands in the center of a major intersection, reminds even the most distant Jews of their heritage.
Gil Smolinski arranged for the design,constructionof the Hannukkiah through his local factory. Since then, each year he takes care of its installation at the city center where it stands for the eight days.
Supporting the Jewish CommunityAs a longtime member of Astana's Jewish Community, Smolinski has supported the Chabad House in various ways
He has assisted with assimilation challenges, covered the costs of kosher food and medicine, and arranged transportation for guests who came to visit the Astana Chabad House.
Many Israelis come to Kazakhstan, and as Karnoach describes it, Smolinski seems to know when they arrive. He has made a point of connecting with them and personally bringing them to Chabad House, so they can enjoy Shabbat, eat kosher food and stay connected to their Jewish roots. “He is truly a partner in our work,” said the Rabbi.
A True Friendship
The relationship between Karnoach and Smolinski stemmed from a common goal to support the Jewish community in Kazakhstan. However, it turned into a friendship. . Rabbi Karnoach describes Smolinski as a person with whom he enjoys praying, studying Torah and discussing mussar.
Rabbi Shmuel Karnoach succeeded Rabbi Yom Tov Yehuda Kubalkin as Chabad Emissary to Astana.