Coming-of-age for émigrés is a win for all
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As we usher in the Jewish year 5774, Bay Area Jews have something extra to celebrate: the blossoming of the Russian-speaking émigré community, which has truly come into its own.
Anyone who has been to Jewish Family and Children’s Services’ annual Émigré Community Gala in San Francisco knows this has been going on for quite a while. But our cover story this week examines the growing phenomenon of Jews from the former Soviet Union assuming leadership positions throughout the Jewish community, outside their own cultural and linguistic borders.
Whether at synagogues, federations, foundations, Jewish agencies or other institutions, Russian-speaking Jews can now be found on key local committees and serving in staff positions, playing decisive roles in setting communal policies and funding priorities.
It’s no accident. When hundreds of thousands of Jews from the FSU began arriving in the United States, first in the 1970s and then again, in much larger numbers, in the 1990s, they found a helping hand waiting for them in the organized Jewish community.
They often needed it. Agencies such as the S.F.-based JFCS provided all types of assistance to help the émigrés adapt to their new home. Over time, families mostly prospered, while their children (and grandchildren) became full-fledged Americans on a fast track for success.
There have been challenges, of course. Because so few of the émigrés had exposure to Jewish traditions and religious culture, not all of them felt comfortable in American Jewish life. Some drifted away from the Jewish community, a phenomenon noted in many parts of the country where this population has settled.
But those who came to the Bay Area had a special advantage. JFCS, the Jewish Communi-ty Relations Council and other key players took a genuine long-term interest in their welfare and invested heavily in their success.
Now that investment is paying big dividends, with émigrés and their children dedicating serious time and money to Jewish institutions at home and abroad. Jewish peoplehood is a vital principle to the émigré community. They demonstrate that through their fierce attachment to Israel and to the collective welfare of our community.
This could understandably be viewed as their way of offering thanks to the Jewish community that embraced them when they arrived. But as we head into the High Holy Days, we would like to offer our thanks to these émigrés for providing such tremendous energy, skill and commitment in their leadership roles. This is only the beginning.
We warmly wish a shanah tovah u’metukah to all of our readers.
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