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A Mitzvah for a New Year

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01/08/2013

A Mitzvah for a New Year photo

For some Russian-speaking Jews in Chicago, this New Year's was special. Besides traditional salad 'Olivie' and a champagne toast at midnight they also performed a mitzvah.

Russian Jewish Division helped to engage close to 40 volunteers who packed and delivered 400 gift packages to the Russian-speaking WWII veterans several days before the New Year. Many of the visits didn't end just with a smile and a gift. Volunteers got to hear stories of struggles and courage, of heroism and tragedies. When we talk about World War II and the Jewish people what often comes to mind first is Holocaust—many people simply do not know of the thousands of Jewish soldiers who fought on the battlefields. 

Julia Bikbova, an attorney by profession, who led this initiative said: "I consider myself very lucky when I get to meet so many courageous people and learn their stories, and my son does that with me too—this is real-life history and real-life heroes, as oppose to comic books and Hollywood-made ones. I get a lot of inspiration from them and that makes it easier to overcome certain challenges in [my] life. I thus try to spread the word and give opportunities to others to volunteer so they gain as much. And based on the feedback and thank-yous from volunteers, they do."

The Russian Jewish community in Chicago is very tight. You would think almost everyone knows everyone. But there is a group of people share more than just a Russian background—they share another story, a very sad and heroic story of World War II. There are about 400 Russian-speaking veterans who live in the Chicagoland area. While many of them are fortunate to have families and friends, many of these seniors are lonely and have low mobility. They mostly live in subsidized apartment buildings around the city and the suburbs, watch Russian television and read Russian newspapers keeping their memories in thick albums with photographs.

The veterans shared with the young generation stories from the war and their amazing life journey. "I heard so many stories today, overwhelmed...Also never was I kissed by so many women and men in one day!" said Genady Yoffe after his visits last week.

Last summer Russian Jewish Division of Jewish Federation started a project called 'L'Dor VaDor,' from generation to generation. In cooperation with the Board of WWII Veterans Association in Chicago, RJD's volunteers visit veterans on their birthdays, bringing them a very special gift—a warm smile and an appreciation for all they had to go though during the war. This project engaged many: sponsors who donated money for flowers to veterans, students, young professionals and young families from Russian-speaking backgrounds.

Get involved and learn more about Russian Jewish community at our new website www.juf.org/RJD

Happy New Year, friends!

The Russian Jewish Division, a new division at the Jewish Federation, serves Russian-speaking Jewish young adults between the ages of 18 and 40. RJD focuses its work on student engagement, Israel advocacy, outreach to young professionals and young families, leadership development and fundraising. While continuing to tailor to the specific needs of the Russian-speaking Jewish young adult community, Russian Jewish Division utilizes various available resources and serves as a resource and 'connection' to the JUF and the Jewish community at large.

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