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August 9, 2013

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PAGE 10A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 9, 2013 S By Cnaan Liphshiz KIEV, Ukraine (JTA)-- Hours after assailants shot Rabbi Artur Ovadia Isakov on a street in the Russian republic of Dagestan two weeks ago, mainstream Russian media were still scrambling to as- certain his identity. But Isakov's name and condition already were known to the readers of Jewishnet. ru, a growing social network with 80,000 daily users that has relied on user participa- tion to cover Jewish news and help connect fast-assimilating Jews across the Russian- speaking world. The first report about Isakov was posted by a user from Israel, where the rabbi is recovering from what authori- ties say may have been a hate attack. Other users added new information on Jewishnet's Facebook page, including details about Isakov's evacu- ation to Israel and pictures of the rabbi's family. "Traffic on the website usually picks up when some- thing dramatic happens in the Middle East or involving the Jewish community," said Igor Kozlovskiy, a technology professional and the site's co- founder. While English-speaking Jews have a number of so- cial networks to share news and connect around shared interests, Russian-speaking Jewry had none when Ko- zlovskiy founded Jewishnet with a partner, Roman Gold, in 2011. The site, which maintains sections devoted to dating, couch surfing and finding travel buddies, is used as well to promote Jewish events in Kiev, home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union and one of the most highly assimilated. According to 2008 figures from the Jewish Agency, 80 percent of Jewish newly- weds in the former Soviet Union married a non-Jew, a figure dramatically higher than the rate in the United States. The vast majority of Ukraine's 360,000 Jews are non-observant, and only a small fraction is affiliated with the organized Jewish community, which many young Jews find obsolete and rife with internal discord. Social networks, Kozlovs- kiy says, have the potential to keep Jews, intermarried and not, connected to Jewish life. "If we don't reach out to the unaffiliated, they will assimilate and will be lost to the Jewish people," Kozlovs- kiy said. "The fact that our website isn't affiliated with any denomination or Jewish Friedman & Friedman Excellence in Real Estate Call Jeffrey at 407-719-0135 Call Barbara at 407-222-6059 One Team. Twice the Knowledge, Service and Experience Specializing in Winter Park and Maitland ao.u institution has allowed us to be a portal for any Jew." Jewishnet functions much like any other social net- working platform, allowing users to post news stories, share tips, ask questions, connect with old friends and promote events. But mindful of the limitations of many web-based networking sites, organizers of Jewishnet have taken steps to provide users with opportunities for real-life engagement with the Jewish community. A platform called Juice, which is run partly through Jewishnet, invites young Jews--many of them unaf- filiated-to meetings with community leaders, Jewish businessmen and journalists. Reports of the events often are published on Jewishnet, and users can submit questions online in advance that are asked by moderators during the actual event. One of the first Juice talks brought dozens of young Jews last November to a talk with three rabbis, including the chief rabbi of Ukraine, Yaakov Bleich. The goal, ac- cording to Juice co-organizer Inna Yampolskaya, was to build bridges between young Jewish professionals and the establishment from which many feel estranged. Those in attendance pro- courtesy Juice Kiev project becomes hub for young Jews with the help of the popular website jewishnet. ru, a growing social network with 80,000 daily users. Left to right, Juice co-organizers Inna Yampolskaya and Igor Kozlovskiy, Ukrainian Chief Rabbi aakov Rabbi Bleich and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee's Lilya Vendrova at a Juice event in Kiev, November 2012. ceeded to grill the rabbis with questions, asking why syna- gogue seats are sold and why philanthropists fund projects in Israel when there are so many unaddressed challenges athome. Some questionswere submitted anonymously on- line because participants felt uncomfortable posing them publicly. "It was a unique experi- ence because it was the first time participants could ask a rabbi anything they wanted," said Inna Yampolskaya, one of Juice's volunteer organiz- ers. "Transparency is new in Ukraine, where everything including Jewish life used to work top to bottom, not the other way around." The New York-born Ble- ich addressed the questions that were put to him. But in an interview with JTA, he stressed that the message is less significant than the medium. In a society only recently liberated from the strictures of Communistrule, the discussion helped to erode longstanding cultural taboos on challenging authority and connect otherwise unaffili- ated Jews to Jewish life. Others turn to Jewishnet for functions more typical of social network users the world over. Liliya Vendrova, an em- ployee of the Joint Distribu- tion Committee's Kiev office, uses the site to find news and make contacts for events, she organizes. Ira Philatova, a high-tech professional in her 20s, connects with childhood pals. "It was a pleasant sur- prise to see old friends on the platform, people I found after years of not speaking to them," Philatova said. The site also has enabled Russian-speaking Jews who live abroad to keep abreast of developments at home. But it also functions in reverse, permitting users to connect with wider developments in the Jewish world. "Many people their age are not interested in participating in organized Jewish life, and they are reaching out to those people," Bleich said. "One of the reasons that this is suc- ceeding is the authenticity." VER TASTED For over 32 years, Too Jay's Gourmet Deli has specialized in holiday traditions. So whether you've got a houseful this Rosh Hashanah, or you will be dining with us, let Too Jay's take care of the details. From our family to yours, we wish you a happy and healthy New Year. Reservations for Dine In & Take Out orders now being accepted. 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