The Wexner Foundation, in partnership with the Commission on the Jewish People of UJA-Federation of New York, has launched the first-ever cohort of the Wexner Heritage Program geared exclusively for Russian-speaking Jews (RSJ). This historic initiative marks a significant step forward in the effort to engage this demographic who came from the former Soviet Union as young immigrants in the 1970s through the early 1990s.
This cohort population bridges two worlds. These 29-to 44-year old Jews were raised in Russian-speaking homes and are successfully integrated into American life. Having spent their formative years in the FSU, Israel and the US, they share a collective memory of anti-semitism, acculturation and immigration. Like many Russian-speaking Jews, though some have not had the formal Jewish educational or community-building experiences their American-born peers enjoyed, they maintain a very strong Jewish identity and an unwavering commitment to the Jewish people.
The group of 20 participants was chosen through a rigorous process in which over 120 individuals were nominated, and more than 65 applied for admission into the program. The Wexner Heritage RSJ cohort will begin the program this summer with a 5-day Institute in Aspen. During their two years of exploring Jewish history, Jewish thought and contemporary Jewish leadership challenges, they will study both as a group on their own, and also alongside Wexner Heritage cohorts from other cities around North America. The program will be tailored to address the unique background of the RSJ population, while simultaneously delivering the elements that have become the hallmark of the Wexner experience: exposure to some of our generation’s most gifted thinkers and teachers in a pluralistic setting, and a high level of discourse about where the Jewish community is, where it is heading, and the crucial role of volunteer leaders in helping to guide us there.