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Reflections On My Experience With JPA

Last January, I embarked on a 6-month learning journey with the Jewish Parent Academy. It turned out to be a significant experience, full of self discoveries for me and for my whole family. I enjoyed learning with many wonderful speakers and connecting to other participants in the cohort.


Every speaker, every lesson, every discussion, brought new insights and meaning to my interesting and complex identity. I emerged with a new outlook on life and a new meaning of what it means to be a Russian Jew, a proud Russian Jew that has a voice and can make a difference in our community, in our country, for Israel and for the world.


JPA was also an eye opener to how much I don’t know. That for me was an important realization, because our journey through life is about learning.  In our daily busy lives we often don’t have a chance to appreciate how special and unique our story is and how valuable it is to pass it to our children.

The experience helped me not only dig deeper into my Russian Jewish identity, but in the process gifted me and my family a surprising discovery about what I found out about my husband’s heritage, who is not of Russian descent.

Late evening in May at the conclusion of one of the most interesting classes on the topic of “Jewish Life Behind the Iron Curtain”, I approached Prof. Zvi Gittelman and asked him a question about my husband’s heritage. I figured a scholar who did such extensive research about Russian Jews, would of course know about all other Jews. After sharing with him some details about my husband's family origins, Prof. Zvi directed me to a small Greek synagogue, the Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue, located on the Lower East Side. Janina, a small town in Greece, is where my husband’s grandparents were from. Both grandparents were holocaust survivors. As many holocaust survivors, they did not talk much about their past with their children or grandchildren.


When we visited Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum with my whole family, we found out that there was a small community of Jews that settled around what is now Greece and neighboring Albania and other countries in the Balkan region after the destruction of the Second Temple. They had been called Romaniote Jews because they were part of Roman Empire. They adopted the language and culture from the local regions that is distinct from other communities in Western Europe and the Near East.  The Romanite Jews settled in the area for almost two thousand years! We always presumed that my husband was a Sephardic Jew and we now know that he is most likely a descendant of the Romaniote Jews. Our family is planning to explore Janina this summer to continue learning and researching about my husband’s family past.


JPA encouraged me to learn more about my heritage and in the process helped my family find the missing pieces of our roots in order to continue our story for us and our children. I am left with a desire to learn more and a feeling of celebration of our Russian Jewish heritage. I am excited to learn more about my husband’s heritage. I am grateful to to everyone at the JPA for making this fascinating learning journey possible!

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