Thursday, August 18th | 22 Av 5782

January 22, 2012 2:38 am

Public Relations, Education & Assimilation

avatar by Ronn Torossian

Natan Sharansky. Photo: Andrew Ratto.

While recently reading The Jewish Week, I saw posters that I recognized, “Let My People Go,” a commemoration of past protests to let Soviet Jews leave the Former USSR. I grew up in Rabbi Avi Weiss’ synagogue, The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and vividly remember when Natan (then known as Anatoly) Sharansky,  visited the synagogue right after his release from Russia. I recall from an even younger age seeing Natan’s wife, Avital Sharansky, sitting on the steps of the synagogue. My mom, Penny Waga explained to at the time that Avital’s husband was in jail in the USSR, just because he was a Jew. Those scenes are etched in my childhood memories.

Fast-forward to today. The Russian American Jewish community is one of those most getting lost to assimilation, and it’s such a shame. I am on the board of RAJE (Russian American Jewish Experience), one of the few groups actually penetrating the Russian American Jewish community – a community that is so hungry for Yiddishkeit (Jewishness), but so few are reaching out to them.

RAJE forwarded a fascinating article about a heroic man -Dr. Jacob Birnbaum – who in 1964, founded the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ). Birnbaum worked with tremendous sacrifice to free Soviet Jewry, until his ideas (and his right-hand man, Glenn Richter) were adopted by the mainstream, and SSSJ became a world movement. The article from Azure regarding Birnbaum’s life story is fascinating and may be read here.

As the owner of 5WPR, a leading U.S. PR firm, I found the article fascinating – to see how even 40+ years ago, PR and slogans played an integral role in opening people’s eyes to the importance of education. It also shows how marginalized Birnbaum was, and how the Jewish establishment didn’t pay attention to the Russian Jews then. Frankly, the situation hasn’t improved much today as most major Jewish organizations largely neglect the Russian Jews in our midst.

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I understand that today Dr. Birnbaum insists that the slogan of “Let My People Go” must be followed by “Let My People Know.” Let’s hope that others join RAJE to ensure that the Russians Jews who gained freedom in this country won’t be lost to assimilation.

(As an aside, in the CIS, post-Communist Russia, Gennady Bogolubov, alongside Chabad, is one of the few actively working to help educate Jews- as we see in this always inspiring speech.)

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR, a Top 25 PR Agency and author of best-selling PR book “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations,” available for purchase here.

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