The Work of Welcoming
How Jewish Atlanta Created Space for Russian-Speaking Jewish Families
By Nathan Brodsky
The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta has affirmed several core values, but I am most proud of our focus on radical welcoming. It’s how we celebrate diversity and create opportunities for those who may not feel connected to or welcome in organized Jewish life.
We have made it a priority to understand the nuances of our Jewish community and deployed our PJ Library social network to bring together eight Russian-speaking Jewish parents for our first-ever focus group. In a meeting facilitated by a representative from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, the attendees spoke about their experiences living in Atlanta’s Russian-speaking Jewish community. Connections were made, conversations were started, and tears flowed – happy and sad. As the only non-Russian-speaking person in the room, I had to wait until someone translated for me so I could fully grasp the depth of these discussions.
I quickly learned how little I knew about the Russian experience or the complexities of Jewish life in Atlanta for first- or second-generation immigrants. They have a very different heritage than most of those who had already been attending our events. I heard stories about parents leaving their home country to find a place where they could be free to live openly Jewish lives. I heard about kids who only knew of their Jewish heritage because of identification markings on their legal documents. I heard moving stories about life experiences that connected each person in the room. Each story was incredibly human and fully unique.
With insights from the focus group and a few key cheerleaders eager to invite their friends, we quickly identified two representatives for the Russian-speaking community: Masha Vaynman and Lana Severinsky. They joined our team and immediately started creating opportunities for Russian-speaking Jewish families to connect in person and virtually.
Four months into this work, PJ Library has made an impressive impact on the Russian-speaking community. Our team has already hosted seven programs for Russian-speaking Jewish families and brought 75 families together, many of whom hadn’t met previously. The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta also saw a 61% growth of the PJ Library subscription base coming from within the Russian-speaking community.
As our outreach continues to spread, friends who I didn’t even know were Russian-speaking have approached me to share their family’s journey to Atlanta and how they have connected to other families with similar stories.
It’s gratifying to know that we are able to support Russian-speaking community members and that they now know Federation is here to help. Our willingness to ask questions and discern this community’s needs has made the practice of radical welcoming real. This initiative has already inspired conversations that led to the creation of a Russian-speaking Moishe House, the first of its kind in our area, to support young Russian-speaking Jewish professionals.
Our team has gone from knowing little about the Russian-speaking Jewish community to becoming a catalyst for Jewish moments in those families and building an even stronger community. We look forward to continuing this work and hope it may inspire others to follow in our footsteps.