April 17, 2011 / 13 Nissan 5771
By Jenny Gitkis Vainstein, Emissary, the Jewish Agency for Israel
When I arrived in Los Angeles at the end of August 2010 in my new role as the emissary of the Jewish Agency for the Pacific Southwest region, the scope and the depth of the Russian speaking Jewish population amazed me. Los Angeles’s Russian speaking Jewish community, the second largest in North America, is spread across a vast territory and includes a wide variety of levels of assimilation, a large socio-economic range, and varying degrees of involvement in Jewish or Russian-Jewish life.
My goal here was to look at ways to bolster Jewish life for this community. My recommendations for addressing these challenges include:
- Mapping and identifying of needs and opportunities within the community.
- Organizing Jewish identity events for young adults at least once a month in order to develop awareness and to develop the patterns of Jewish life.
- Building a leadership group that is ready to go through the long educational and training process and will take on the commitment of organizing community life.
I decided that my focus should be on those who have the energy, interest and potential to get involved, build new activities and generate enthusiasm in the community. Indeed, developing young adults as community leaders is the cornerstone of building up a successful and sustainable Jewish community.
During the past few months three major events were produced by a group of volunteers with my guidance and with the financial support of the Genesis Philanthropy Group. On December 2, 2010 a unique Hanukah party called “In a New light” opened the series. Beverly Hills of Los Angeles shone especially bright and beautiful because of the Hanukah candles which were lit by Russian speaking Jewish young adults of Los Angeles. The program included lighting candles together with the Consul of Israel Yehudit Meltser, social activities in the spirit of Hanukah, dancing, sufganiot and latkes, and a lot of fun. Almost 120 participants took part in the event and enjoyed the warm atmosphere and the spirit of renewal.
The idea of the party was developed through an interesting discussion among volunteers at my house where the following questions were raised: Are we a community? Should we be a separate Jewish community or should we promote Russians to participant in local communal life? What can we do in order to make our communal life more vibrant?
All of the participants agreed that in order to connect to the mainstream Jewish community in a meaningful way, we needed first of all to be a strong Russian speaking Jewish community, well-educated and concerned about one other. Inspired by this idea, volunteers organized almost everything on their own with only me having to provide only limited organizational support from me.
The party was a success and the volunteers felt deeply gratified by the results. Here is some of the feedback that we’ve been getting:
“Yes, we did it. They came and they enjoyed!!!“
“10 out of 10; we were expecting people and more than 100 came!!!“
“We can do it and it depends on us!”