Dear Generation Я Friend,
Last week, Rabbi Joy Levitt, chief executive officer of the JCC, sent you a letter (see below) with the bittersweet news that Generation Я is winding down at the end of June after fifteen extraordinary years. As the founder of Generation Я, I wanted to send a personal note of gratitude for your participation and inspiration in the community.
Programming for Russian-speaking Jews (RSJs) started in 2003 with a few one-off programs. Yet thanks to you—extraordinary artists, filmmakers, writers, Russian Jewish educators, playwrights, chess aficionados, authors, community leaders, and most importantly, program participants—Gen Я took on a life of its own and blossomed over many more years than ever planned. Our collaboration allowed you to celebrate your unique Russian Jewish background while also impacting hundreds of non-Russian speaking members in the larger JCC community.
It is in large part due to that success that the JCC is excited for you to more broadly share your Russian-Jewish-inflected backgrounds and talents with the larger community and partake in the JCC's existing robust programming.
There are way too many of you to thank, but I wanted to send a special shout-out to a few of Gen Я's longest supporting sponsors: Alex Berchansky, owner of Aaron's Gourmet Emporium, who catered the very first Shashlik in the Sukkah in 2003, before Gen R even existed, and has provided much of the delectable food for large Gen Я events ever since; Dave Katz, founder of Zyr Vodka, often provided the beverages; and a huge thank you to Genesis Philanthropy Group and Olga Markus, whose resources and unwavering support enabled Gen Я to thrive.
Finally, one of my greatest privileges as the Director of Gen Я has been to get to know you and to watch you evolve in the context of the JCC over the years. On a departing note, I wanted to share a fun tidbit: over the years, three couples who met at Gen Я events, married and had children. They have shared beautiful photos of their families with me. If there are others of you, please email me so we can celebrate you, too!
According to Jewish tradition, if you've made three shidakhs (matches), you go to heaven. Thank you for coming along with me for the ride!
With appreciation and admiration,
Director, Generation Я
P.S. The "Audrey Jccmanhattan" Facebook page, through which many of you have kept in touch, will be renamed "Audrey RSJ" and will continue to be used to communicate events of interest to the Russian-speaking Jewish community. If you wish to reach me personally, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please stay in touch!
June 17, 2021
I'm writing with the bittersweet news that the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan will be sunsetting its Generation R initiative for Russian-speaking Jews (RSJs) at the end of June.
I say bittersweet because it is hard to say goodbye to Audrey David, a former JCC Board member and Russian speaker who is beloved by so many. Audrey built Gen R, as it has come to be known, from a group of ten young adults into a community that has served thousands through cultural and educational programs for children, adults, and families. What is sweet is that Audrey and I both feel that Gen R has met and exceeded its original goals. Through the JCC’s pluralistic environment, Gen R built a strong community of Russian speakers who embraced their identities through uniquely curated programs.
It was always our hope—and Audrey’s dream—that RSJs would become an integral part of Jewish life at the JCC, and we are proud to continue to provide programming such as the Jewish Journey Project, our film festivals, and everything in between that responds to the interests and sensibilities of this community. We look forward to serving the community as it continues to weave itself into our larger intergenerational fabric.
Generation R began in 2002 when Audrey and I attended a JDC-sponsored conference in Moscow, after which Audrey helped the JCC organize one-off programs meant to attract RSJs in their 20s and 30s, many of whom had settled on the Upper West Side. In 2005, the JCC was offered a grant from UJA-Federation of New York to create a small leadership group of RSJs to explore programmatic possibilities. This led to hundreds of unique programs under the “Generation R” banner.
Over the past decade and a half, cultural events have been central to Gen R. The program regularly partnered with COJECO’s prestigious BluePrint Fellowship program of Russian-speaking Jewish innovators, artists, and intellectuals, hosting numerous BluePrint projects including art exhibitions, literary events, cooking demonstrations, Israeli Russian programs, and even an opera. Collaborating with the JCC’s Carole Zabar Center for Film and its Israel Film Center, Gen R screened Israeli films in Russian, as well as Russian films exploring Jewish themes. Other events included performances by the Boris Eifman Ballet and art exhibitions such as Alina and Jeff Bliumis’s landmark interactive show, “Casual Conversations.” Programming with musicians such as Ljova and the Kontraband and Dmitri Slepovich, and award-winning writers such as Gary Shteyngart and Masha Gessen, were programmatic staples.
Additional highlights included Olympic Gold Medal swimmer Lenny Krayzelberg speaking on the pool deck at the JCC’s first Tikkun Leil Shavuot, and Chess Grandmaster Gennady Sagalchik playing simultaneous games against Gen R participants. Most memorable were Gen R’s marquee events such as “Shashlik in the Sukkah” (pictured, above), its annual Purim Celebration, the end-of-year “Shabbat Na Kryshe,” and weekly classes in Russian for children as young as three, such as Russian Shabbat Club and Shabbat Ceramics in Russian. Thanks to these and hundreds of other programs, the Russian-speaking Jewish community found a welcoming home at the JCC and is now a welcome addition to the larger JCC community.
Audrey and the JCC are deeply grateful to Gen R’s many institutional supporters, including UJA-Federation of New York, COJECO, JEP, JFNA, and especially Genesis Philanthropy Group. We are also appreciative of its many individual donors.
But most of all, Audrey and I thank YOU, the participants in our programs over the years. The JCC will always be a home for exploring and embracing your Russian Jewish heritage within the larger community.
Rabbi Joy Levitt
Chief Executive Officer