Exhibition

Welcoming Soviet Émigrés

When I came to the United States I learned that I don’t have to be ashamed of being a Jew anymore. Émigré Edward Kudlis at his bar mitzvah, 1982

Local Jewish agencies worked closely together to extend a welcoming hand to new Soviet émigrés in Washington.

The United Jewish Appeal Federation coordinated efforts to help newcomers assimilate into American society. Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA) volunteers met immigrant families at the airport and served as their guides through the confusing maze of their new lives. JSSA also provided counseling, housing referrals, medical exams, and job placement services.

Synagogues and Hebrew schools planned activities to help émigrés learn about their Jewish identity and practice Jewish traditions. Volunteers created an extensive network to assist families with shopping, banking, medical needs, and driving them to appointments.

I remember how touched we were by the fact that we, two stateless refugees from the Soviet Union, were treated with dignity — something we were not used to. Boris Feldblyum, former Soviet émigré, December 10, 2010, Remarks at the 40th Anniversary of the Vigil
Bat mitzvah, 1996

Bat mitzvah, 1996

Émigré Olga Shapiro (left) hugs Rachel Eisenstadt at Rachel’s bat mitzvah. Rachel’s mother, Merry Madway Eisenstadt, volunteered through JSSA to welcome the Shapiros when they emigrated, bringing them a welcome basket with ritual items and traditional foods. Rachel and Olga became fast friends.

Courtesy of Merry Madway Eisenstadt. Photo by Michael Bennett Kress.brary.
School for emigres, 1979

School for emigres, 1979

Émigrés study pronunciation with teachers Madelaine Kirlin (standing at back) and Ana Maria Di Luigi (center) at Temple Israel in Silver Spring. The program included day and night English classes for adults and nursery school for the children of immigrants.

JHSGW Collection. Gift of Washington Jewish Week.
Bar mitzvah, 1979

Bar mitzvah, 1979

Rabbi Leon M. Adler of Temple Emanuel officiates at Eugene Gershgorn’s bar mitzvah. The Gershgorn family had arrived a year earlier from Kiev. Here, from left to right, are Rabbi Adler, Eugene, Lydmila, Svetlana, and Gary Gershgorn.

JHSGW Collection. Gift of Washington Jewish Week.
Becoming a citizen, 1984

Becoming a citizen, 1984

At this special ceremony, forty local Soviet Jewish émigrés took a ceremonial oath of citizenship, just hours after they had been sworn in as U.S. citizens in a local courthouse.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Joan & Oscar Dodek.
Celebrating Russian traditions, 1982

Celebrating Russian traditions, 1982

This poster advertises a Russian Fair held by the New American Club at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington. The fair included a concert, puppet show, Russian food, crafts, and lectures.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Flora Atkin.
Jewish Group Wedding, 1981

Jewish Group Wedding, 1981

Thirteen couples who had been married in Soviet civil services participate in a Jewish marriage ceremony at Adas Israel. Rabbis Morris Gordon (Har Shalom), Stanley Rabinowitz (Adas Israel), and Samuel Volkman (Ner Tamid) officiate. Local banker and philanthropist Leo Bernstein sponsored the reception and a one-night honeymoon for each couple. Other businesses donated flowers, tuxedos, and gowns.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Leo M. Bernstein Family Foundation.
Moving in, 1980

Moving in, 1980

Marcia Weinberg helps recent émigré Igor Feldblyum move a couch into the family’s new apartment in Langley Park, Maryland.

(c) 2013 Boris Feldblyum