RAJE Concludes a Full Year of Programming for Russian Jews

As 5782 ends, RAJE concludes another great year of dynamic programming, designed to connect first and second Russian American Jews to each other, their heritage, and the greater Jewish community. Some highlights of the year included a weekly Talmud class, a monthly discussion on Jewish meditation and wellness at Playa Bowls in the Quarry, business networking, and social events like ax throwing and the Oriel’s game, in addition to regular in-person and online Torah classes and one-on-one sessions.

RAJE also ran a special panel session to discuss the war in Ukraine that was moderated by RAJE students, David Pasmanik and Nicole Finkel. Nicole holds a BA in Political Science from George Washington University and MA in Global Security from Johns Hopkins and David holds a B.S. in Diplomacy & International Affairs & a minor in Russian language. The program featured presentations by Mr. Eli Gold – the President of the Gold Institute for International Strategy and founder of a leading foreign policy and national security think tank, and Rabbi Shimon Brooks – the Director of Menora, an organization that provides spiritual support for the Jews of Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia & Moldova. The war is of great concern for many RAJE students, many of whom were born in the Ukraine and still have relatives there. On a national level, RAJE raised thousands of dollars to help Jewish orphans in Ukraine, helped run a therapeutic support hotline for those suffering from trauma, and conducted an Ulpan and RAJE fellowship for new Russian and Ukranian olim in Jerusalem. Another special event was a talk by Rabbi Dr. Yitzchak Breitowitz Esq, about the Torah approach to Roe v Wade and the implications of the recent Supreme Court ruling. Rabbi Breitowitz, a senior lecturer in Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in Jerusalem, is the former Rav of the Woodside Shul in Silver Spring, and is a graduate of Harvard Law School and former tenured professor at the University of Maryland School of Law.

Each semester of RAJE programming culminates in a subsidized trip to Israel or Poland, with optional intensive tours of Jewish sites in various European cities. “It was an amazing opportunity to connect with Russian Jews from all over the country, as well as meet other Russian Jews living in Israel,” participant, Gil Plaks, said. Gil is a graduate student and professional graphic designer. “The trip was a perfect blend of action packed activities, delicious Israeli food, and impactful Jewish learning.” Gil Is hoping to return next summer again to Israel to further explore and learn. The trip had a stopover in Vienna where the group visited Jewish historical sites in Budapest, Bratislava, and Vienna, as well as a moving visit to the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. “One especially meaningful part of the trip was traveling to Budapest, where I got to visit the Jewish quarter,” Naomi Hoch, a second year student at dental Maryland School of Dentistry, said. “I was able to see the apartment where my grandfather was raised, which later become a part of the ghetto. I also toured the synagogue that my family attended and where some of my relatives are buried. Going from Budapest to Israel with a group of diverse Jewish young professionals reinforced my Jewish pride and reminded me that as Jews we have not just survived, but prospered.”

RAJE also helps students get high level internships in their field in Israel and the U.S. This summer Nick Karakulko, a college student originally from Pikesville, landed an amazing internship working for a Manhattan hedge fund. On the weekends he enjoyed Shabbatons and learning in BMG with Lakewood Fellowships. “Having grown up in a secular Russian family I knew a little bit about Jewish holidays – very little – but I had never done Shabbos before in my life,” he said. “It was amazing to connect to Jews who were deeply committed to Judaism. The Jewish learning filled a gap within that I didn’t even know was there. I plan on continuing to learn Torah back in Baltimore.” Nick has already made up to learn Derech Hashem with RAJE Maryland staff each week.

On Thursday, September 29th, RAJE Maryland is launching their third annual BE CouRAJEous Chesedfund Matching Campaign –– 1 day to $180k. Help RAJE continue to share the beauty and depth of Judaism with many more Jews this upcoming year by visiting www.RAJEMaryland.com.

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