RUSSIANS don’t drink vodka every day.
That was one myth jokingly debunked by the Zionist Federation of Australia’s (ZFA’s) Kangarusski coordinator Anna Maylis at last month’s NSW Jewish Board of Deputies plenum, which looked at the plight and achievements of Jews from the former Soviet Union and their descendants.
She explained that there are up to an estimated 15,000 Russian-speaking Jews in Sydney and they comprise almost 25 per cent of Jewry Australia-wide. However, many do not feel part of the community.
To address the challenge of engaging the youth and with the support of Meriton, Kangarusski was founded within the ZFA in 2012 as an “address for the Russian-speaking Jewish community in Australia”, offering a wide range of educational and cultural activities.
Maylis said all Kangarusski’s activities are organised and led by volunteers, who are the “heart and soul” of the organisation.
Looking back at the highlights of the last seven years, she listed Limmud FSU – which has taken place three times – and Kangarusski’s four Birthright buses as important milestones.
“The connection with the young people who went on the last Taglit [Birthright] is very strong. They come to our events, they participate in organising our events, they definitely stay connected,” she said.
Kira Kless, a volunteer who has children who participate in the programs, said the activities “have given my family an opportunity to pass to my children the traditions of my grandparents in an engaging, non-invasive, fun way”.
“My children have found friends, many with similarly anxious Russian Jewish mothers,” she joked.
“It’s a place where they feel they belong, it’s a place where they speak their language, it’s place where children can learn and be proud of their heritage and where they’ve made hopefully lifelong friendships.”
Volunteer Stella Dvuchbabny spoke of the importance of having a community, noting “our grandparents and our parents never had it”.
“When we see hundreds of people coming together … that makes me feel extremely good,” she said.
ZFA public affairs chairman Ron Weiser said he was “tremendously proud” to have been involved from day one.
“For such a large percentage of people who make up part of the community to be unconnected and disconnected and feel disaffected, is a terrible thing and I think that this project has gone a long way to rebuilding, renewing and bringing [people] in, and making our community much, much richer,” he said.
Plenum attendees also heard via video from previous Kangarusski Birthright participants and were treated to a special vocal performance from youths David Kless, Veronica Broustinov and Gabriel Gitman.