Olga Cherches’ story is similar to that of many other Russian Jews who came to Baltimore in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Having faced countless incidents of anti-Semitism growing up in Minsk, she hoped to leave the former Soviet Union for a better life in America.
When she was in her early twenties, she reconnected with an old friend, Dmitry, who had immigrated to Baltimore with his family. The two married and moved to his newly adopted city. Six years later, her parents followed.
It wasn’t until she volunteered on “Journey Together: 25 Years After Operation Exodus,” that she realized the incredible role The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore played in her history. “Journey Together,” a week-long celebration sponsored by The Associated, commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Washington, DC rally in support of freeing Soviet Jews. It culminated with a Gala.
“When I was working on ‘Journey Together,” I learned why we ended up here and what the Jewish community did for the Russian Jews,” she says. “It was amazing how much money and energy the community put into bringing us here. It changed my world.”
From 1980 to 1987, more than 100 organizations under the Jewish Federations of North America successfully raised $1 billion to rescue and resettle Soviet Jews in Israel and North America. Local resettlement programs, including HIAS, Jewish Family Services (now Jewish Community Services), Jewish Vocational Services and the Baltimore Hebrew University were all funded by Associated Annual Campaign donors. Baltimore families volunteered to shop, furnish and adopt Russian families, providing a welcome face and personal connection in a foreign country.
Today, Cherches is co-chair of The Associated’s new Russian Engagement Initiative, along with Andrew Razumovksy and Vlad Volinksy. The initiative is taking a thoughtful look at how to best engage Russian Jews in the Baltimore Jewish community based on their personal, family and professional interests.
“I feel it would be great to see kids and young adults start to participate more in communal Jewish life in Baltimore,” says Razumovsky. “I’d like to see parents engage and pass their involvement in and values on to their kids.”
Volinksy, who arrived in this country 36 years ago, agrees. “It’s important to be part of our Jewish community. We all share similar values.”
This year, as part of its efforts, The Associated has planned five engaging programs based on interests expressed in the community: 10/7 The Future of Israel’s Security, 12/17 History of Jewish Baltimore & Operation Exodus including a guided tour of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, 2/23 Connecting Your Kids Jewishly, 3/6 Мы из USSR! Comedy Night featuring past champions of КВН and participants from 95 Квартал and 4/15 Russian Speaking Jewish Communities of the World. (Click here to learn more about these programs and to register.)
Adds Cherches, "The Associated is about one big Jewish community and I want the Russian community to be part of that."