Twins Give Back by Sponsoring Russian Shabbaton
by Paul Wieder
Twin brothers Alex and Nik Turik are sponsoring this year’s Shabbaton for JUF’s Russian Jewish Division (RJD). The Shabbaton will be held from March 7-9, at the Hilton Indian Lake Resort in Bloomingdale, Ill.
This year’s event, which might not have gone forward had the Turik brothers not stepped up, will be the 10th year Chicago’s Russian-speaking Jewish young adult community has had a weekend of its own. More than 100 participants from the U.S. and Canada will connect with those of a similar background, celebrate their identity, and discuss their role in the Jewish world. Speakers will include Refuseniks and those active in the Soviet Jewry movement. For many, this will be their first Shabbaton – for others, their first Shabbat ever. Over the years, dozens of couples have met at the event, and now they bring their children.
The Turik twins, now 35, were born in St. Petersburg, Russia, then moved to Israel and served in the Israel Defense Forces. In their early 20s, they came to America.
Their involvement in Chicago’s Jewish community began with a free membership to the JCC provided to new immigrants. While attending DePaul University, they made friends through Hillel, and attended a JUF Walk with Israel. Philanthropist Harold Eisenberg mentored them, took them to JUF events, and “eventually became a father figure,” Alex said. “He showed us that [to be] Jewish in America is to be part of community. He helped us with everything.”
The brothers also helped form a community of their own, “organizing dinners with business leaders,” Alex said. “Then we bumped into JUF/Jewish Federation Board Member Harvey Barnett (a member of the JUF/JF Board of Directors) and invited him to talk. He came on Purim [and] told us about his involvement with Soviet Jewry. We read the Megillah together. It was moving for all of us; he was moved to see the young Russian Jewish people interested in Judaism and Jewish community.”
Alex also mentioned several and professional lay leaders as “people who inspired us and helped us professionally”: Wendy Berger Shapiro, vice chairman of the JUF/JF Board of Directors; David Schwalb, president of Schwalb Realty Group and committee member of JUF’s Real Estate Division; Charles & Harry Huzenis, principals of JRG Capital Partners, a corporate partner of JUF; Paula Kaplan-Berger, the principal of Berger Law, P.C. and member of the Hillels of Illinois Governing Commission; Peter Friedman, senior planning advisor for JUF; and Michelle Maer, director of Giving for Solomon Schechter Day School.
“These leaders showed us that it is our responsibility to help others, immigrants or those less fortunate, and that it is really a Jewish responsibility,” Alex said. The brothers became active in RJD; Alex now sits on its Advisory Board.
“Sometimes people get lost – Russian young people,” Nik said. Through RJD, he said, “it is easy [for them to] connect to young people of Russian background right away.”
“I think the Russians came without any sense of a community,” Alex said. “To realize we can be part of something larger is incredible. We began to realize RJD is keeping us together. I have been involved for a very long time, to see us grow.”
They are quick to emphasize that RJD is for all ages, however. “I volunteer with World War II veterans and Holocaust survivors, people who often get forgotten… I see how they are touched by our attention. They did a huge sacrifice – not only in WWII, but to stay Jewish!” Alex said. “What they had to endure, it is really moving. Every time I visit their homes, I think of my own grandparents, and I am moved to tears, and have the feeling of awe.”
With their real estate company now in its fifth year, they felt it was their turn to give of themselves. As Alex put it, “When you realize how hard it is to have a new beginning, you appreciate help. Now, it is the point to give back.” For the brothers, involvement in RJD “is part of being Jewish, part of belonging to the Jewish community. It means to help less fortunate, people who need help, or to sponsor a Shabbaton like this.We are working to help RJD move, grow, and expand,” Alex said. “To make people involved with us, and as a result, build a larger community as a whole, meaning JUF.”
“People think that charity… is what old people to do, with lots of money,” Alex said,“I think it can be done – it should be done – much earlier. It can be with your time, and it can be done with what little you have. Just get involved and give something of yourself.”
“Your life becomes much richer when you give,” Nik agreed, “in all kinds of ways.”
To learn more about the Russian Jewish Division or Russian Shabbaton, contact Evgenia Kovelman, RJD’s director, at www.juf.org/RJD.
This article originally appeared in JUFNews.com