About Us

Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe (FREE) was founded in 1969 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. It was led by a group of young ex-Soviet “partisans” to cater to the broad range of needs of Jewish refugees from the Former Soviet Union. FREE has helped tens of thousands of these Jews, who often arrived in the U.S. with nothing but the clothes on their back, and precious little else.

FREE has continued to reach out to these Jews, feeding their bodies and nourishing their souls through housing, rent, medical and employment assistance, and education in Torah and Mitzvot. Serving as the first such Organization in the United States, FREE has become America’s largest Jewish organization serving Russian immigrants with their spiritual and material needs.

Governments fall, the map is rearranged, but Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe never stops responding to the call of the Jewish soul. Indeed, Jewish continuity is not an item on our agenda. It is our agenda.

History

After the First World War and the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Eastern European Jewish communities plunged into a chaotic and frightening era. There was a major disruption in the traditional Torah educational system. Religious education was banned by communist law, the practice of Judaism was systematically blocked, and those Jews who continued to observe Torah suffered severe consequences. Even with great courage, observance of the commandments such as Shabbat, kashrut and circumcision became virtually impossible for the traditional Jewish masses.

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Accomplishments

Three decades is not much time in the context of Jewish history. Yet during the three short decades of FREE's existence, a heroic effort has taken place to revitalize what the Communists destroyed.

Starting from a rented room and a handful of dedicated volunteers, FREE has grown quickly, and continues to grow, in order to handle the increasing influx of Russian Jews coming to America. Over the years, continually adopting one project after another, FREE services have expanded to help all aspects of the lives of the Russian Jews.

1969:
• The FREE Social & Humanitarian Services Division was established,
sending volunteers to visit refugees and assess their material needs. Volunteers assisted refugees in finding apartments, arranging English classes, obtaining employment, and providing them with basic necessities such as furniture and clothing.
• The Adult Education Division, also formed at this time, providing regular classes in basic Judaism for refugees.

1970:
• FREE established the first Jewish-Russian High School in the United States on 711 Eastern Parkway, across the street from the Lubavitch World Headquarters. Over 2500 students have been enrolled in FREE High School to date.

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Also see:
- In the Media
- Leadership
- F.R.E.E. Worldwide
- Historic Photos

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