Creating Russian-Jewish community on Staten Island.
Rabbi Shlomo Uzhansky was born in Kiev, raised in Philadelphia, and educated in upstate Monsey and Lakewood, N.J. After he married, he and his wife, Chana, moved to Jerusalem.
For the past three years, the rabbi has been spending more time in Staten Island and, since last summer, the rabbi has called Staten Island home. The borough is known for its growing population of Russian-speaking Jews, many of whom are unaffiliated. “People move there because they don’t want to be found,” he says. Many are professionals in their 20s and 30s with young children.
This, the fourth installment of the “36 Under 36” list, highlights the dedicated lay leaders who are reordering our legacy organizations alongside community activists and social justice crusaders whose startups are chock-full of innovation.
Watch a video of the Jewish Week's reception for 36 Under 36 honorees here.
Growing up in Northern California, Konstantin Kraz had very few Russian friends. That changed in 2000, when, as a student at San Jose State University, he went to Germany with a delegation from Hillel International on a program called “Bridge of Understanding.” Of the 18 participants, six were Russian immigrants. “Wow, these people are just like me,” he said.
Shira Kline never thought she’d be doing what she’s doing: performing music for young Jewish children. “I’m a daughter of a rabbi,” Kline said. “As a kid, I made a promise that I wouldn’t be a professional Jew.
“That didn’t work out,” she added.
Not that she’s complaining. As the founder of the children’s Jewish music band ShirLaLa (www.shirlala.com), Kline says that she has discovered her true path.
When Eli Winkelman met former President Bill Clinton after a speech at Claremont College, she presented him with a foil-wrapped loaf of challah. That interaction got her and her organization, Challah for Hunger, a mention in Clinton’s book “Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World.”
A native of Brazil and former resident of Argentina, Rabbi Mendel Weitman heard the same thing over and over upon his move to New York four years ago: young Jewish men and women, mostly professionals and college students from his continent, would come here, attend synagogue services or some other Jewish function, feel ill at ease in an unfamiliar and often unwelcoming culture, and drop out of Jewish life. They didn’t feel at home.
JT Waldman put it bluntly: “I’m a comic-book geek. My entire world view is defined by them.” While he grew up in a Reform synagogue, went to Hebrew school and had a bar mitzvah, Waldman was essentially a lapsed Jew by the age of 14. His was the normal stuff of childhood: comic books, video games and Froot Loops. But when he was in college, studying in Spain, his Jewish identity became more apparent.
Growing up in Flatbush, Sheva (Frank) Tauby didn’t hear many stories from her American-born parents about the Holocaust even though many relatives on both sides of the family had perished.
Today, she hears stories all the time.
As founder and director of iVolunteer (iVolunteer.com) she and her husband, Rabbi Tzvi Tauby, arrange for volunteers to visit and assist isolated Holocaust survivors. They meet survivors, screen volunteers, conduct training sessions, raise money and run an array of social events and Shabbat-holiday programs.
A day after Vivian Lehrer and Yoni Stadlin got married, they received the best wedding gift of all: a $1.1 million grant to pursue their fantasy project, a Jewish sleep-away camp focused on environmental sustainability.