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February 21, 2014 8:24 am

Russian Jews Provide Great Hope for American Jewry

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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A Russian Jewish group visits Israel for the first time. Photo: Anav Silverman / Tazpit News Agency.

I just returned from a fascinating weekend in Connecticut where I was the keynote speaker for the National Russian Jewish Shabbaton, hosted by Chamah International and the Lubavitch Youth Organization.

With more than 1,000 people in attendance, the program provided yet another reminder of just how vital the Russian-American Jewish community is to the future of all American Jewry.

Numbering some 750,000, Russian-American Jews constitute the largest group of unaffiliated American Jews. The reality is that these Jews need to be educated further about our religion, as communism stole so much Jewish knowledge from them – and they are eager and hungry for Jewish content. It is simply amazing.

This weekend was tremendously successful in part because it targeted Russian speakers only. Russian Jews need to be communicated with differently than others, which should be obvious. The Jewish establishment needs to shed their old-school thinking and hire more Russian speakers.

The weekend was so special to be a part of. An overflow crowd saw an overwhelming amount of Jewish programming on a wide variety of topics. From Jewish law to Kabbalah, challah baking to “A Healthy Body, A Healthy Soul,” there were programs for Jews of all ages and all religious backgrounds. While Chasidic singer Lipa Schmeltzer performed after Shabbat, the overflow crowds I observed enjoyed mingling with one another just as much. While the weekend was geared toward “Russian” speakers, attendees emanated from Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Georgia and many other former Soviet republics. (My children also got to meet comedian Marc Weiner, the real life Boots from Dora the Explorer.)

As a founding board member of RAJE (Russian-American Jewish Experience), I am well aware that Russian-speaking Jews thirst for authentic Jewish culture and are a bright spot for the entire Jewish community. I wish that every single Russian Jew could be subsidized to attend similar shabbatons – and if so, with 750,000 such individuals who hunger for Judaism, there is no question that intermarriage and assimilation rates would radically decrease.

Unlike other Jewish organizations that might buy countless full page ads and solicit every donor in the Western Hemisphere, RAJE focuses solely on Russian-American Jews. With all the dreary reports about a 68 percent assimilation rate among American Jewry, Russian-American Jews are the rare bright spot and can be the salvation of American Jewry. Groups like RAJE and Chamah educate and reach so many – and should be supported more for their work.

“Let My People Go” became a reality and now we must continue onto “Let My People Know.” Russian Jewry made Israel a much stronger nation. A Russian-American Jew changed the world with Google. If we empower existing Russian-American organizations more, we will see a radically positive effect on the entire American Jewish community.

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