By Julie Masis
Six nonprofits received grants from the Massachusetts-based Russian Jewish Community Foundation (RJCF) this year.
The largest grant went to Arlekin Players Theatre, a Russian-language theater company based in the town of Needham, outside of Boston. The theater received approximately $4000, which is 20 percent more than last year, according to the president of the Community Foundation Alex Koifman.
“It’s our community theater. It keeps our community together and we think it is important,” Koifman said. “And they create plays about our Jewish experience.”
The theater, which is run by a Moscow-trained Jewish director Igor Golyak, has staged several plays that touch on Jewish themes, such as “The prayer for the Dead” (a Russian version of “Fiddler on the Roof”), as well as a theatrical production based on the works of Isaac Bashevis Singer. Most recently, Arlekin Players brought to its stage an original documentary-play entitled “Us,” which is based on interviews with hundreds of Russian-speakers in Boston about immigrating to the United States.
The Russian Jewish Community Foundation was established more than ten years ago for the purpose of supporting Israel. In particular, the Foundation funds a community center in the Israeli town of Sderot, which is often under rocket fire. The town is home mostly to immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In addition to the community center, RJCF runs a summer camp for children of Sderot. The Foundation, which is run entirely by volunteers, raises money from private donors as well as during its annual charity gala. One of the Foundation’s most important donors is Inessa Rifkin, the founder of the Russian School of Mathematics which now has campuses in seven states. However, Koifman would not reveal the name of the biggest donor, except to say that it is a Russian-speaking Jew who also lives in Massachusetts. Last year, RJCF’s budget was $269,142.
Each year, the Foundation sends more than $200,000 to Israel, however, a small portion of the revenue is allocated toward supporting Jewish nonprofits in Massachusetts.
Here is a list of the organizations that received grants from RJCF this year.
Remembering the Holocaust in Ukraine
This year, the Russian Jewish Community Foundation gave $2,500 to a Massachusetts-based nonprofit “RememberUs.org” that focuses on commemorating the Holocaust in Ukraine. In the coming months, they plan to erect a monument in the town of Bila Tserkva, Ukraine, on the spot where 8,000 Jews were executed during WWII. Until now, there was no monument at the site of the mass murder, said the organization’s director Igor Korsunsky.
“It’s an unpaid debt,” Korsunsky said. “People who are here don’t want to think about it. They should be participating more than they are.”
He said it is shameful that most of the sites where Jews were murdered in Ukraine are now being taken care of by local residents, who are not Jewish themselves. Jews who immigrated from the former Soviet Union simply don’t care about it – “there is no polite way to put it,” he said.
Every summer, RememberUs.org organizes youth trips to former shtetls in Ukraine, where volunteers take care of Holocaust monuments and plant metasequoia trees, that can live for 1000 years, Korsunsky said.
Photos of the pogroms from Russia’s Civil War
The Russian-Jewish Community Foundation also gave a $1,600 grant this year toward a photo exhibit of pogroms from the Russian Civil War. The exhibit, which is entitled “Why They Left” presents rare photos from a book that was originally published in the Soviet Union in 1926. Some of the pictures depict groups of emaciated orphans whose parents were murdered during anti-Semitic attacks. The children have sunken eyes, some are on crutches, others are barefoot or wearing rags. The book was never reprinted after 1926, which means that even the Russian-speaking Jews whose ancestors may have been affected by those pogroms had never before seen such images.
“We didn’t see (photos like that) in the Soviet Union,” Koifman said.
The financial support from the Russian Jewish Community Foundation will help to bring the exhibit to several locations around the state as well as to establish a website which will present photos of pogroms and information about anti-Semitism, said Diane Covert, the artist who has created the exhibition.
“I wouldn’t have done this exhibit without the help of the RJCF,” she said, adding that last year she received $1000 to prepare the installation.
An Israeli theater to tour Boston
The Foundation also allocated about $2000 to bring a Russian-language theater from Israel on a tour to Boston to perform a play entitled, “The Third Jewish World War.” The Matara theater is located in the city of Ariel, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
Friendship for Russian–Jewish families
The Russian-Jewish Community Foundation also gave about a thousand dollars this year to a Jookender, a secular nonprofit that gathers Russian-Jewish families together for weekend activities in the Boston area. In addition, Jookender organizes trips for Russian-Jewish teenagers. Right now, they are planning a Holocaust-remembrance tour to Poland and Germany, said the organization’s executive director Sasha Grebenyuk.
“We see ourselves as the largest Russian-Jewish organization in the Boston area that brings families together and gives them an opportunity to make friends. For us, it is important that our children are raised in a Jewish environment and that they don’t lose their connection with the Russian language and the Russian culture,” Grebenyuk said.
Finally, the Russian Jewish Community Foundation gave an $800 grant to the Russian Boston Gazette, a bilingual newspaper that covers local news in the Russian-speaking community in Massachusetts.
About half of the organizations that applied for grants from RJCF received funding. The Foundation does not disclose the names of the organizations whose grant applications were not successful, Koifman said.
“We have a mission, which is to support the Jewish community and fight anti-Semitism. If someone says, ‘We are interested in tennis,’ – it’s not something we are going to finance. If someone says, ‘We are going to have an exhibit of Jewish tennis players,’ then maybe,” Koifman said. “Our projects are not to promote the Russian identity, but to promote the Jewish identity. Part of it is the love for the state of Israel. We have no projects in Russia.”
This year, the Russian Jewish Community Foundation increased its support for Israel.
In particular, the summer camp for children from the Israeli town of Sderot was expanded last summer to accommodate 77 children – which is 14 more children than last year, Koifman said. Russian-speaking camp councilors from Boston flew to Israel to volunteer their time in the summer camp.
In addition, the Russian Jewish Community Foundation finances the community and cultural center in Sderot, which offers math, English, and dance classes.
“It’s a poor town and people from the former USSR are living there. The town has been under constant rocket attacks,” Koifman said. “The children there have been traumatized by rockets from Gaza. It’s very important to show them they’re being loved and taken care of. Because the rockets come very often, the children can’t even go outside very often.”
This year, the Foundation also sponsored 150 foreign soldiers in the Israeli army, including Russian-speaking soldiers who are not Israeli citizens, Koifman said. The Foundation helped them purchase jackets, boots, bullet-proof vests and other gear; sent them packages for Jewish holidays and financed their expenses when they are on leave from military bases, Koifman said.
Last year, the Foundation sponsored 100 Israeli soldiers.
In addition, RJCF gives about $25,000 per year toward the post-secondary tuition of three former Israeli soldiers, according to Koifman.