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RELIGION : Russian Reform Judaism Leader Joins Benefactor

January 13, 1994

Six years after Pomona Rabbi Earl Kaplan huddled with a group of Soviet Jews in Zinovy Kogan's barren Moscow apartment to illicitly study the Torah, the two men finally met on U.S. soil.

Much has changed over the years: The winds of perestroika pushed Kogan's congregation above ground to make him the leader of Reform Judaism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern bloc. Through those changes, Kaplan's Temple Beth Israel in Pomona has provided money, medicine and moral support.

"He is literally the George Washington of Reform Progressive Judaism in the former Soviet Union," Kaplan said during Kogan's visit Sunday. "Now, there are three dozen other congregations throughout the former Soviet Union and Eastern bloc, all modeled after (Kogan's) Congregation Hineini."

Kaplan remembers the furtive study sessions in Kogan's apartment, decorated only by an Israeli flag on the wall. Now, his Moscow congregation is more than 500 strong, with two schools, a hospital program, and plans for a religious cultural center.

"Now, I came to United States, and I want to say thank you very much for the American Jews who helped in our beginning. It was very important for us," Kogan, 51, said in broken English. "I'm very optimistic."

In 1988, Kogan's congregation shook off its cloak of secrecy and in 1990 became the first religious institution not under government control to be recognized by the government. For 20 years before that, Kogan said, he and many refuseniks--Soviet Jews who were not allowed to leave the Soviet Union for Israel--met in underground schools where they conducted Reform services and studied Jewish Scripture.

"When Rabbi Kaplan came four years ago, I talk about my dreams, my programs. . . . Rabbi Kaplan and his congregation many times helped Hineini with medicine, with money," Kogan said.

Temple Beth Israel is one of about half a dozen synagogues around the country that have pledged support for Hineini, including one in Pacific Palisades, Kaplan said.

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