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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 27, 2012 PAGE 13A By Jonathan Mark New York Jewish Week NEW YORK--The Soviet Jewry movement, particularly Jacob Birnbaum's grassroots Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry here in New York, was not only about saving Soviet Jews but igniting a politically dormantAmerican Jewry, guilt ridden about its sense of not having done enough in the 1930s and '40s. In 1964/at the beginning of Birnbaum's activism, it seemed either ludicrous or messianic that a handful of teenagers protesting on a Manhattan sidewalk could force the Soviet Union, then a superpower dictatorship to change its ways. But by the 1980s, those sidewalk rallies had evolved into 100,000 Jews gathering on "Solidarity Sundays," and on Dec. 6, 1987, came the high-water mark of American Jewish activism: the greatest Soviet Jewry rally of all, a quarter-million Jews marching on Washington, coinciding with a Soviet- American summit. Today, of course, there are more than a million Russian Jews in Israel, and another 220,000 Jews in Russian-speaking households in New York, according to the new UJA-Federation of New York population study. To commemorate the 25th anniversary of that march on Washington, veterans of the Soviet Jewry movement have launched "Freedom 25," to remind American Jews--and a younger generation of Russian Jews--ofwhatAmerican Jews Freda Birnbaum Refuseniks Yosef Mendelevich (r) and Yakov Gorodezky at the Celebrate Israel Parade in June. and Russian Jews once did and can d0 again. Freedom 25, co-chaired by Soviet Jewry advocates Daniel Eisenstadtand Michael Granoff, is a partnership of seven organizations--the American Jewish Commit- tee, Jewish Agency, Orthodox Union, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Jewish National Fund, JINSA (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs) and the American Jewish Historical Society along with former refuseniks, vari- ous communal leaders, and veterans of the grass-roots ac- tivist groups, Studertt Struggle (SSSJ) and the Union of Coun- cils For Soviet Jews. The announced goal is "to raise awareness" of the Soviet Jewry movement's "epic tale," while generating an online solidarity "march" of one mil- lion people, centering around the December anniversary of the Washington protest. The group is aiming to get schools, campus groups, summer camps and other institutions "to integrate the movement into their curricula and edu- cational mission." Even in day schools, where activism on behalf of other Jews remains an exalted value. most students don't know much, if anything, about the Soviet Jewry movement, says Glenn Richter, a leading figure in SSSJ and a member of Free- dom 25's advisory board. He noted that one particular day school student, whose father is associated with Freedom 25, was able to identify Rosa Parks and the basics of the civil rights movement but "had no knowledge at all of the Soviet Jewry movement." Many young Russian Jews here, added Richter, are un- aware of how it came to be that they are living in New York instead of Novosibirsk. (Of course the 1991 Collapse of the Soviet Union played a major role in triggering emigration as well.) Richter says he was at "an event for 250 young Russian Jews. and a speaker asked, does anyone know the term "refusenik?" "Now remember." says Rich- ter. "these are the children of Russian Jews. or they may have even been born in the former Soviet Union themselves. Out of 250 people, one young woman raised her hand. One. We have a big job to do. If they can explore their own back- ground, then maybe they could understand the solidarity of Jews, and thevalue of that." There is no inevitability to ignorance and apathy, as demonstrated by the evolution of the refusenik generation. At a recent dinner in honor of Ja- cob Birnbaum by the Russian American Jewish Experience, a Brooklyn-based association of Russian Jews, Natan Sharan- sky recalled that prior to 1967, "We knew nothing about our history, rlothing about our Jewishness, nothing about our traditions." Sharansky, by way of the gulag, now chairs the Jewish Agency, cosponsoring Freedom 25. Yosef Mendelevich, who spent 11 years in the gulag and is now a rabbi in Jerusalem as Well as a member of the Freedom 25 advisory board, -recalls the Jewish isolation and ignorance of his Soviet childhood, before the move- ment's great awakening that lifted him spiritually as well as politically. "I felt," he said movement on a recent-visit to New York, "as if it was me coming out from the kever," the grave. "l feel like [Ezekiel's] bones that came alive." "My generationwill be pass- ing from the scene." says Rich- ter, 67. "We have to preserve what happened that December day, what that movement and its values meant, the unprec- edented .unity and activism." the love and obligation that one Jew instinctively felt for another Jew. In an era in which autonomy and individualism are so valued, Richer says there is a higher value,"acting as a Jew for other Jews." As Jew- ish history unfolds, "as a Jew you have to ask, what is my responsibility, and how can I carry it out." Pamela Cohen, former pres- ident of the Union of Councils, says, "On our campuses,and in major cities, many young people are lost, without a strong Jewish identity. They actually remind me much of what Soviet Jews were like before 1967." One early part of the educa- tional process is the publica- tion of the first English-lan- guage edition of Mendelevich's autobiography "Unbroken Spirit" (Gefen Publishing) 25 years after its Russian and Hebrew editions. "Every step of the way," says Richter of Mendelevich's story, "Yosef questionedwhat he did, why he did it, and how that determined his Jewish identity. That way of thinking is trans- ferable and inspirational." / Mendelevich writes about how Sharansky's cell was briefly opposite his, and if they spoke softly enough they could talk. "but itwas better to sing. On Friday nights, after [what passed for] Kiddush and a meal. I would sing to dispel the loneliness 'Do you hear me?' I would sing?" '"Yes, Yosef, I hear you,'" whispered Sharansky. "Shabbat Shalom,Anatoly." '"Shabbat Shalom,' came his lilting reply. Hearing this," writes Meridelevich. "I felt the angels of Shabbat descend and dispel the loneliness." "What I try to say in my book ' says Mendelevich today, "is that it is a p!easure and a joy to be Jewish. Anyone who is looking for a joyful life, this is theway to do it. I was a dull Soviet citizen, I studied in the university like everyone else, but there was no meaning in my life. I found meaning in our Jewish . clandestine group," working for Soviet Jewry and emigra- tion to Israel. "In the process I found freedom not only for Soviet Jewry but freedom for me. to feel myself strong, joyful, involved in life. It is a privilege to be Jewish." "We have to get back to the idea of the Jewish people as a collective," says Richter, "with collective responsibility for Israel and each other, a sense of oneness with tlaeland that the refuseniks were willing to go to prison camps for, and a oneness with the people of Israel. These stories have to be told, the history has to be shared, and the values passed on. That's what Freedom 25 is all about." By Steve Lipman New Yoi'k Jewish Week NEW YORK--They've moved beyond the chess games on Ocean Parkway and the Brighton Beach board- walk strolls, those cliched markers of the Russian im- migration wave of the 1980s and '90s. "We're night and day from our parents' generation," said Esther Lamm, a native of Lvov who leads UJA-Federation of New York's Russian Leader- ship Division. "We're the children of the generatiori that left Egypt." Today's young Russian Jews are hipper, wealthier and more actively Jewish than their par- ents. They are creating their own institutions and making their presence felt in the wider Jewish community. "They're np longer a poor immigrant group that needs to be supported," said Rabbi Jay Henry Moses, director of the Wexner Heritage program, which recently created its first "cohort for Russian-speaking Jews." The new leadership-training program, which will start at a five-day institute in Aspen, Colo next month, was launched in partnership with UJA-Federat on and is guided by Russian Jews for Russian Jews. About 20 percent of the eight-county Greater New York Jewish community-- some 200,000 Jews--is com- posed of Russian-speaking Jews, members of families that came here since the late 1970s; it's a figure that has remained constant for about 20 years. As Roman Shmulenson, executive di- rector of COJECO--The Council of Jewish l~migr~ Community Organizations, said, "This community can- not be ignored." Current signs of a grow- ing confidence within the Russian Jewish community, and a growing recognition of the new generation's needs, include: a Russian initiative of the Manhattan-based Brown- stone education program for college students and young adults, which runs weeklong semiflars in New York. With its Own Brownstone build- ing that will open soon, the Russian initiative will begin a series of city trips, educa- tional seminars and cultural programs this year. a Synagogue Outreach Network, under the aus- pices of COJECO, that re- cently awarded" grants to 10 local congregations to "bridg[e] the gap between [the] 'second-stage' Russian- speaking Jewish population and congregations of various denominations." the Russian Chai Society, a new UJA-Federation pro- gram, under the aegis of Rus- sian Jews, which encourages donors to give $18 a month to the charity. a newly founded Moishe House in Peter Cooper Village for Russian-speaking Jews in their 20s and 30s. the opening this Sep- tember of the first middle school class at Brighton Beach's Mazel Day School, which was formed by a small group of migr parents and has grown in a decade from a single, pre-nursery class with three kids to a thriving school with an enrollment of 130 and a waiting list. No longer a community of mostly engineers and doctors, no longer segregated in South Brooklyn and Central Queens, no longer immigrants but acculturated, hyphenated Americans, the Russian Jews are a distinct and increas- ingly powerful community; its members employ Facebook and other social media to keep in touch, elect political repre- sentatives and provide leaders for such mainstream Jewish organizations as Brooklyn College Hillel and the.Kings Bay Y. Russian Jews--they prefer to call themselves Russian- speaking American Jews--are showing increasing signs of greater cohesiveness (they point to New York's Syrian Jews as a model of a self- sufficient Jewish community ttiat supports its own causes and general Jewish commu- nity causes), greater wealth (though many of the elderly migr s still live on limited incomes, theAmerican-raised generation is working at highqncome high-tech and financial services jobs), and an assertive Jewish identity (often expressed in grass- roots Jewish organization of their own making). On a recent Friday eve- ning, Nadya Chelnokova, a twentysome.thing native of the former Soviet Union who now lives in San Francisco, joined a handful of fellow migr s it a conference center near the Princeton University .campus for a worship service titled Kabbalat Shabbat for now ma Russian American Jewish Parade. RAJE/Oleg Gurvich Experience participants march in the recent Celebrate Israel "chainiki," a Slang Russian expression for beginners. Over the next three days Chelnokova and some 600 other people, mostly from the New York area, with roots in the former Soviet Union, at- tended a series of lectures and workshops and social events during Limmud FSU, part of the international network of intensive, pluralistic Jewish learning retreats around the world. Since 2006, Limmud FSU has sponsored several such conferences in the former Soviet Union; the Princeton veekend in May was the first three-day gathering in the United States for members of ~migr~ families and was organized by Russian Jews for Russian Jews. On one recent afternoon, Biana Shilshtut, a 30-year- *** old native of Uzbekistan Early one recent Friday who now works in wealthevening, Regina Akhenblit, a management ih Manhat- 21-year-old native of Moldova tan, sat in a Midtown hotel lobby discussing her personal Jewish journey. Like other migr6 Jews her age, raised in families that had little exposure to Jewish tradition in the communist USSR, she had little interest growing up in Judaism. In New York since 20051 she has served as an active mem- ber of several Jewish organiza- tions geared to Russian Jews, including UJA-Federation's Russian Leadership Division and RJeneration, which spon- sors a variety of educational and cultural programs for "a ,generation of Americans with a second culture and language." and recent Brooklyn College gradtaate, was among a few volunteers setting up the fourth-floor meeting hall of the Jewish Center of Brighton Beach for that night's Shabbat dinner. Later, othervolunteers came to help prepare for a Shabbaton sponsored by RAJE (Russian American Jewish Ex- perience), an independentout- reach organization founded by St. Petersburg-born Rabbi Mord~chai Tokarsky that has offered its own leadership training program and a series of ongoing events since 2006. More than 400 Russian Jews, most in their 20s and Mark on page 19A