When Felix and Alexandra Furman of Swampscott married 50 years ago in a small civil wedding in Kiev when it was still part of the Soviet Union, it was illegal for Jews to enter a synagogue. The state’s unofficial policy was to eliminate religious beliefs within its borders.
Jews were persecuted if they were caught studying Hebrew.
The very idea of a Jewish marriage – while desired – was never seriously considered.
“The thought of ever signing a ketubah in front of a rabbi and exchanging wedding rings under a chuppah was just unimaginable,” Felix Furman said. “We could have lost our jobs and been arrested if we ever attempted that in Kiev.”
Alexandra concurred that it was always a dream of hers to have a Jewish wedding, but she never saw it as a possibility. Their focus was on escaping the Soviet Union, because of the country’s antisemitic policies, with their two daughters and Alexandra’s parents.
On Feb. 8, the rabbinical institute born from the brutal stabbing of Rabbi Shlomo Noginski in Brighton in July 2021 celebrated its first cohort of eight rabbinical students – six from Israel, and one each from Australia and the United States – with what it called an “historic wedding” for three Russian-born couples, all of whom had been married at least 35 years ago in civil ceremonies in the USSR.
“It was a dream come true,” said Alexandra Furman, who looked a bit nervous but happy, carrying a bouquet of white roses and wearing a wedding dress with a white veil. Felix, dressed sharply in a gray business suit, stood by her side as they repeated their vows – this time in Hebrew under a chuppah.
It was more than 30 years ago – in 1992 – when the Furmans were able to escape the Soviet Union after obtaining visas and boarding a train to Moscow, worrying the entire time that they could be robbed or arrested. They then boarded a flight to Boston.
They settled in Swampscott where they had family, built a comfortable life for themselves as Felix was a software engineer, and became regulars at Chabad of the North Shore’s weekly Shabbat services. Their youngest daughter, Inna, is a pharmacist and lives with her husband and two daughters in Swampscott. Alice, their other daughter, is a psychotherapist and lives in Sharon with her husband and two daughters.
As fate would have it, in an event that had wonderful and unexpected consequences, the Furmans attended a lecture last year by a visiting Ukrainian scholar at the Chabad-Lubavitch Shaloh House in Brighton, the only organization dedicated exclusively to serving the needs of the Russian-Jewish community.
Rabbi Dan Rodkin, the Moscow-born executive director of Shaloh House for the past 23 years, introduced himself to the Furmans at the lecture and asked them if they would be interested in participating in a wedding to celebrate the first anniversary of the rabbinical institute. It didn’t take long for them to say yes.
Since it opened in 1994, the Shaloh House has served as a Jewish day school, a synagogue, preschool, Jewish day camp, and a Russian center. It made international news when Rabbi Noginski was brutally stabbed outside the school on July 1, 2021, in what has been called an antisemitic hate crime.
The rabbi, who had a black belt in judo and had fled antisemitism in the USSR himself, was hailed as a hero because he protected students by running away from the school to a park across the street, pursued by the attacker.
Despite being stabbed eight times in his arms and shoulder the rabbi, the father of 12 children, was able to successfully defend himself. He later was treated at two Boston hospitals and today is almost fully recovered, he said.
The stabbing was the most serious attack on a rabbi in New England since 1969, when two youths hurled acid in a rabbi’s face in Mattapan.
The Boston community was outraged by the vicious attack on Noginski, and to honor him and make a dream he had for several years come true, raised more than $1 million to establish the rabbinical institute.
“When the rabbi got stabbed, it personally hurt me,” said New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. “I reached out to see what we could do and the rabbi encouraged me to help establish the rabbincal institute.” Kraft provided a lead gift of $250,000.
The institute offers what Rabbi Rodkin calls a unique blend of traditional rabbinical studies with a practical rabbinic internship where students get hands-on experience officiating bar mitzvahs, weddings, and funerals, as well as teaching classes and leading services.
“When you face the darkness of hatred, our response is to shine lightness,” Rabbi Noginski said. “This wedding brought more light and joy to the world, particularly to the three couples who were denied a Jewish wedding.” Θ