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Brandeis-Genesis Institute for Russian Jewry E-NewsletterJuly 2010
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Dear Friends and Colleagues,
The 2009-2010 BGI undergraduate fellows.
BGI Fellows - Retreat, April 2010
The Brandeis-Genesis Institute for Russian Jewry (BGI) has completed its first year, and I am proud of the part that Brandeis University is playing in nurturing the development of young Russian speakers who wish to strengthen their connections to the Jewish community. Founded in 2009 with support of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, the BGI's mission is to prepare Russian-speaking students from around the world to become effective community leaders fortified by Jewish knowledge, a systematic understanding of Russian Jewry, and a commitment to the future of the Jewish people.

In 2009-10, BGI provided opportunities for 31 high school students to participate in summer programs (BIMA and Genesis at Brandeis University), for 16 Brandeis undergraduate students to participate in a unique fellowship program, and for three rising professionals to begin their studies in the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program. These 50 young people come from the United States, the former Soviet Union, Israel, and other countries; what they share is their Russian heritage, the Russian language, and a commitment to ensure the continuity of the Jewish identity. In this e-newsletter you will find interviews with three of BGI's undergraduate fellows who share their own specific BGI experiences and insights.

As I write, 36 more Russian-speaking high school students are here on campus and immersed in the Genesis and BIMA programs. In August, new students will be arriving at Brandeis to join our fellowship program. BGI has extended scholarships to six additional undergraduate students and two graduate students. I am truly excited about the opportunities in the upcoming year, as BGI continues to develop an exciting array of activities for our fellows. These include academic lectures, cultural events, retreats, leadership development seminars, and others. This promises to be another exhilarating year for BGI staff and fellows. I encourage you to watch this space and the BGI web site for announcements of events for 2010-11.

We hope that this e-newsletter will help strengthen and develop our worldwide network of people and organizations that share our goals. Please feel free to be in touch with your ideas about how the BGI can further its mission, and pass it along to friends and colleagues who might wish to be a part of our growing network.


Dan Terris
Vice-President for Global Affairs, Brandeis University
Interim Director, Brandeis-Genesis Institute for Russian Jewry


Julia Rabkin' 11

Julia Rabkin What specific courses have you taken that have helped you connect with the Russian Jewish experience?

I came to Brandeis not knowing how to read or write in Russian, and I felt that there was a huge disconnect between my parents/grandparents/relatives and myself because of that. I remedied this by taking Russian for Russians, a class taught by Professor Irina Dubinina, specifically geared towards Heritage Speakers of Russian who cannot read or write Russian. Prof. Dubinina taught me to read and write in Russian, and helped me develop a love for the richness of the Russian language, which helped my own process of recognizing it as one of the only links I have to fully understand my Soviet-Jewish heritage. Next year, I plan to take a class offered by Professor ChaeRan Freeze on the history of Russian Jews post WWII, and I hope that this academic foundation can help ground my understanding of the Russian-Jewish experience.

What have you learned from the other fellows this year?

I think I learned to fully appreciate the diversity of Russian Jews. The category in itself is so narrow and specific, but still, within it there is an incredible amount of diversity of backgrounds and life experiences, and all of the BGI fellows are representative of that. Yet simultaneously, I feel as though all of the BGI fellows are somehow my distant siblings because there is so much that we have in common in terms of upbringing, values, worldview, shared experiences, and mentality. One of the big things we have in common is our desire to further develop the Russian-Jewish community and ensure the continuity of the Russian-Jewish identity. I have also come to realize just how amazing of a group we are and how wonderful each fellow is individually.

Why is exploring your Russian Jewish identity important to you?

Because there is a distinctive aspect to everyone's background, and the Russian-Jewish-American one that we share definitely has a very uncommon blend of traits. Understanding one's own identity helps one better understand oneself, and in better understanding oneself, one can be a self-actualized human being, with a purpose, and can effectively contribute to the community and society in which he/she operates.

Nera Lerner '12

Nera Lerner What have you specifically done/studied through BGI to help you gain more insight into your Russian Jewish heritage/identity?

BGI had sponsored an education seminar on Russian Film as well as a seminar on the Refusnik movement in the Former Soviet Union. Beyond that, Emil Draitser gave a very entertaining lecture on Russian film and comedy. Ultimately, the BGI has been providing us with a strong context and background into areas of Russan-Jewish study that we might not have access to in our academic careers/paths of students. I've gained a better insight into who I am.

What specific courses that you have taken have helped you connect with Russian Jewish experience?

The most helpful class has definitely been Advanced Russian Language through film. It was interesting to see movies my parents grew up watching and identifying why certain traditions exist in my family. I also experienced a classroom setting that was not taught in English, but the Russian language.

What have you learned from the other fellows this year?

A variety of things, mostly that I have a background I should be proud of. Its been a consistent feeling that we are a family away from home, and it's a wonderful feeling to know that a group of people who I wouldn't have even expected to be friends with in another setting, have become incredibly important to me.

Victor Zhivich '13

Victor Zhivich Why is exploring your Russian Jewish identity important to you?

Exploring my Russian Jewish identity is important because it helps me better understand who I really am. I realize that I am different from other Jews because of the unique cultural experience that marked my upbringing. I find it really interesting to explore what it means to be a Russian Jew because it reveals a lot about myself.

How is BGI helping you establish the Russian Jewish connection?

BGI has helped me establish a Russian Jewish connection by simply existing. Many of the fellows have the same mindset and goals that I do, and I found it amazing how much we all had in common. In addition, I think the volunteer project that I was involved with helped me discover my roots and how difficult life was for Russian Jews in the Soviet Union era.

Please tell us about your BGI volunteer project?

I chose to do an oral history project that focuses on my family experience in the Former Soviet Union. The result was an hour-long film of interviews with my grandfather and his brother-in-law. Throughout this process I discovered a lot about my heritage and about the struggle of growing up Jewish in the Soviet society.

What are your plans after graduation and how do you think being a BGI fellow may help shape them?

I think that after graduation I will try to involve myself in the Russian Jewish community. I feel a deep connection with that community and it would feel great to give back on a larger scale.

For a more complete account of the experience of the undergraduate fellows, read The Russian-Jewish Dilemma: BGI Undergraduate Fellows Reflect on the Program's First Year.
The Art and Journey of Marc Klionsky, a recent event
 organized and sponsored by the BGI.

"We are not slaves", 1989
"We are not slaves"
BGI undergraduate fellow Julian Olidort '11 brought his grandfather, artist Marc Klionsky, to Brandeis for an exposition of Klionsky's work. Klionsky's art is best described as "Jewish political art" in the context of post-Second World War Soviet Union. To date only a handful of collections of Jewish artwork focus on the social struggle in the former Soviet Union. Read More.

Irina DubinaIrina Dubinina, BGI faculty adviser and Director of Brandeis' Russian Language Program, writes on her experience teaching the BGI undergraduate fellows in her "Russian Language for Russian Speakers" course. Read More.

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The mission of the Brandeis-Genesis Institute (BGI) is to prepare Russian-speaking students from around the world to become effective community leaders fortified by Jewish knowledge, a systematic understanding of Russian Jewry, and a commitment to the future of the Jewish people.
The Brandeis-Genesis Institute for Russian Jewry is funded by the Genesis Philanthropy Group.