On Sunday, February 10th, the sanctuary at Anshe Chesed congregation filled to the brim with the parents, grandparents and close friends of a group of RSJ teens who read from the Torah for the first time in at least 4 generations.
“We didn’t just come to America to be free, we came to reconnect to our Jewish culture and traditions,” said Roman Shmulenson, executive director of COJECO. “Most families came to the United States as refugees, escaping official and unofficial anti-Semitism and persecution, and now, as they have fully immersed in the American society, they’re starting to reconnect with their heritage and their culture and traditions. We are hoping this is just the beginning of the journey.”
The B’Nai Mitzvah Group Ceremony was the culmination of a year long journey a group of Russian-Jewish families embarked on under COJECO’s guidance.
Over the year families gathered for educational sessions where parents and teens learned Jewish history and traditions. Each family chose a personally meaningful mitzvah project and learned values of tikkun olam and chesed by volunteering together. Individual learning sessions for teens gave them an opportunity for personal Jewish exploration with a knowledgeable mentor. Next week the families will travel together to Israel and participate in a ceremony by the Southern Wall.
“The teens had an opportunity to touch the scroll, to learn Hebrew and to read from the Torah. It brings them closer to their Jewish roots, opens new horizons and gives them the foundation for their future lives,” said Julia, Andrew Piatetsky’s mom. “They learned what it means to be a Jew. Other families in the program became our extended family and we can’t wait to experience Israel with our new family next week,” added Anna Len, mother of Frederick Len.
For young women in the room this became even more of a special occasion. Girls becoming Bat Mitzvah became trail blazers as previously none of the women in their families were able to read from the Torah. “We are so touched and extremely excited for our girls”, said Lev Pliskin, the father of Isabella and Rebecca Pliskin, “and we are really looking forward to our Israel trip – we have been thinking about it all year!”
As this year’s programs winds down, the COJECO team is preparing to onboard the next cohort of RSJ families on their journey.
COJECO B’Nai Mitzvah Family Journey is made possible with the generous support of UJA-Federation of New York.
COJECO – Council of Jewish Émigré Community Organizations – offers unique programs for Russian-speaking Jews to engage with the community on their own terms, encouraging identity exploration, informal Jewish education, leadership training, and volunteering.