RAJEing since 2006
Shimon was born in the US to Russian immigrant
parents with an "almost non-existent Jewish identity.
The national identity created through Soviet anti-
Semitism is what was given over to me." He came
to a crossroads as he came of age without anti-
Semitism in his life: "I fundamentally questioned
what it means to be Jewish. Just because I'm born a Jew does it mean that
I have to accept that ideology?"
Eventually, Shimon found his own way to connect to his Jewish heritage,
and started to make Shabbat observance a part of his life. He heard about
the RAJE center through word of mouth. He was looking for an available
place to keep Shabbat, and heard about the Shabbatons in Brighton
Beach. "I tried to keep Shabbat before and I couldn't get it done...they had
young people, people who really knew what was going on. RAJE created
a safe haven for me."
Although Shimon did not do the traditional RAJE programming, he
frequently popped in on classes and was frequently in the building,
connecting to the staff and students. "They were teaching growth and
spirituality, not just on a cultural level, but on core values as well." With their
support and guidance, he eventually decided to spend a year in Israel,
where he met his wife, Chana.
Back in New York, Shimon has been instrumental in creating several
groups for guys like him, looking for a way to connect their Russian and
Jewish identities. "I was looking for other people like me to make a support
group for young Jewish Russian professionals. We wanted to make it like
fight club." Through his inspiration and the guidance of Rabbi Reuven
Ibragimov, Shimon helped develop a group of young Russian-Jewish
professionals learning and socializing weekly. "It's been over a year now,
and I can see that every guy in the group is a leader in himself." Boxing
legend Yuri Foreman recently began teaching weekly at the RAJE center,
"so the whole Chabura started going there. It's become a culture, a life for
"In this group there are now Russian-American Jews taking on varying
degrees of observance, and living a lot of different lifestyles. A lot of people
have different perspectives but RAJE has helped us find the glue to keep us together and develop our Russian American Jewish identity.