The Auspicious Reunion
- The Jewish Press
June 15, 2007
In 1981, two nine-year olds, Alex and Ilya, who had recently arrived from the former Soviet Union, spent the summer in Camp Gan Yisroel, located in Parksville, New York. For Ilya, who had attended a yeshiva in Brooklyn run by F.R.E.E. (Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe), most of the Jewish rituals practiced at camp were familiar. Alex, however, experienced Jewish observances for the very first time at the camp.
Fast forward to March 2001, when Rabbi Eliyahu Blokh, the executive director of Chabad of Rego Park, paid a pre-Purim visit to Dr. Alex Kaminsky, a successful chiropractor with an office in the area. Rabbi Blokh had come with a Purim basket to reach out and introduce himself to the doctor. During their conversation, Rabbi Blokh inquired about Dr. Kaminsky's Jewish education. He mentioned that he had none, growing up in the former Soviet Union - except one summer long ago that he had spent in an upstate Jewish summer camp. When queried about the year, the doctor stated: 1981.
On his next visit to Dr. Kaminsky, Rabbi Blokh brought along a small black and white picture he had saved of his first summer in Camp Gan Yisroel. The rabbi and his bunkmate soon realized that it was time to resume the Jewish education that had begun 20 since the late 70's. Initially, the bulk came from Eastern European republics, like Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Moldova. Unlike other immigrant groups from Central Asia and Georgia, they are less accustomed to communal Jewish life, but more often than not, full of Jewish pride. There are approximately 5,000 Russian Ashkenazi Jews living throughout Queens, including neighborhoods that no longer have a Jewish presence. While maintaining a wide spectrum of community based programs that serve the larger Jewish community, the Chabad of Rego Park has taken special interest in reaching out to this overlooked community. Rabbi Blokh, himself once an immigrant from Moscow and his wife Shulamis, originally from Minsk, understand this community's hesitation and occasional apprehension of Jewish rituals. Rabbi and Mrs. Blokh, along with their associates Rabbi Yossi and Mushky Mendelson, the directors of Chabad Hebrew School, have seen great success working with Jewish Russian couples and families.
The Chabad also sponsors programs in cooperation with the Jackson Heights Kehillah, such as Russian language sedorim. At one such seder, an elderly woman declared that this was the first real seder that she had ever attended in her life.
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