Seeking community and fun, Moscow's young Jews go clubbing

"Our goal is to unite the Jewish people and allow Jews to meet each other and to introduce them to the holidays and traditions of the Jewish people."

The doors open outward at Moscow's posh Cisterna nightclub onto Prospect Mira and its young, upwardly mobile denizens. Inside, all the usual accoutrements are present: an exquisitely extraneous swimming pool; a bar serving drinks as exotic as they are exorbitantly priced. One thing, however, makes this club different from its hundreds of competitors in Russia's capital: This club is filled with Jews. "This must be the only place in Moscow where the dance floor is packed at 8:30," one patron observed on a recent Saturday evening. Started a year and a half ago by Ilya Kiselev and Arman Beglaryan as a way to bring together young Jews in a less formal setting than a synagogue, Project Rabinovich throws parties that have become quite popular among Russia's younger Jewish set. "Our goal is to unite the Jewish people and allow Jews to meet each other and to introduce them to the holidays and traditions of the Jewish people," Kiselev tells JTA in a trendy restaurant not far from where his fellow Jews gyrate under the strobe lights. Project Rabinovich's inaugural party in late 2005 drew approximately 800 people and filled the club it rented to capacity. Even now, the project's parties continue to draw an average of 300 to 500 people--impressive for a city where so many nightclubs compete vigorously for the same upper-middle-class clientele. Project Rabinovich parties are held twice a month and rotate between some of the city's hottest locations. Some nights, like the one at Cisterna, might be all drum and bass, while others might run a retro disco theme. In May 2006, Beglaryan and Kiselev brought in another old friend, Leonid Teplov, as the project's CEO. Beglaryan, now responsible for the project's Web site, no longer handles party planning. But he remains close to his creation and attended the most recent party, dancing jubilantly. Teplov and Kiselev make an incongruous pair. Kiselev, 21, sports flashy clothes and the mullet haircut that inexplicably is all the rage this season among the city's young elite. He is the personification of the hip Muscovite, awash in all the promise and opportunity this post-communist playground has to offer. Teplov, 35, a large man with tightly wound curls and a slight wheeze, is a bit less polished. After falling head over heels over a rock while exiting one of the project's parties, Teplov flashed a nonchalant look suggesting that this type of gaffe was not uncommon. Both are DJs; Kiselev also says he is a promoter. While this kind of hip Jewish nightclub might not be out of place in New York or Tel Aviv, it is a revolutionary concept in Russia, where Jewish religious life is dominated by the Orthodox and secularism is the prevailing sentiment among the youth. One measure of the project's success is its positive reception by the local Jewish community. Kiselev and Teplov coordinate their events with just about every major Jewish organization in Moscow, religious and secular. Anna Arsenyeva, program coordinator for Moscow Hillel, a Jewish student organization that has collaborated on several holiday parties with the project, spoke effusively about its impact. "In Moscow the Jewish youth world is big but also very little," she said. "The value of this project is that it gives a chance for Jewish youth to get together without any problems." On the breezy summer evening at Cisterna, dozens of young people milled about outside the club, trying their best not to look overeager. "This is a place where we can see our Jewish friends and other Jewish people," said a 27-year-old woman named Jenny who was waiting in the snaking queue. "Before the program, we only saw our friends on holidays, but that was long ago, in the synagogue." As any secular Jew living in Moscow knows, it can be incredibly difficult to find a Jewish partner without resorting to the less-than-thrilling prospect of Shabbat dinner at shul. Project Rabinovich exists to fill that need. "It's a secular project," Kiselev said. "According to religious rules, men and women can't dance together, and we want everyone to come. Basically, it just shows that the most effective way of getting people together is without religious affiliation." Indeed, the Cisterna party started before the end of Shabbat, at 7:00 P.M. on a Saturday evening when the Sabbath ended around 10 P.M. Kiselev and Teplov estimate that 90 percent of their attendees are Jewish. Even beyond that, they say, the project is infused with Jewish content. Although neither has a strong religious background, the pair holds parties for every major Jewish holiday, complete with the appropriate traditions. On Rosh Hashanah, for example, they passed around apples and honey. They also donate a portion of their proceeds to charitable causes in Israel. After last summer's war in Lebanon, they sent the proceeds from one party to help rebuild a kindergarten in northern Israel. But their main aim is less lofty: to provide a modern extension to the traditional Jewish shidduch, or matchmaking, system. "We want Jews to meet other Jews," Kiselev said. "We want Jewish young people to have a nice time and relax."