A community of rural residents in the former Soviet Union, descended from Russian peasants who converted to Judaism two centuries ago, may soon be consigned to the dustbin of history.
In a dark spotlight-lit stage, a man in a long, black suit; yarmulke; and tallit slung over one shoulder fervently sings into a microphone, while a dance troupe in similar -- but sexier -- garb twirls behind him.
He's not a cantor. He's not a rabbi. He's not even religious. He is Evgeni Valevich, a performer whose repertoire includes a program of Russian Jewish music in the genre called Estrada. Estrada may be a genre unknown to Westerners, but to Russians, the term is immediately recognizable.
The center is also the focus of criticism from some of its would-be occupants, who say that they haven't been kept in the loop about planning the center from the beginning, that its opening has been delayed and that they are unsure about when they will be able to move in.
Anatoly Obermeister, president of the construction and development firm ASTRA, plans to offer the ground floor -- about 6,000 square feet -- of a new housing project in the center of town for use as a Jewish community center that could include a restaurant, clinic, school and other social services.