Avital Chizhik Goldschmidt does most of her outreach to the Russian-speaking Jewish community through the printed word, publishing articles about émigré life and Jewish feminist issues for media outlets including the New York Times, Haaretz, Tablet and the Forward. She also teaches Torah classes.
Rabbi Benjamin Goldschmidt’s outreach is more public, delivering sermons from the pulpit of the Upper East Side’s Park East Synagogue, where he has served as assistant rabbi for three years; he also teaches adult education classes there, officiates at life cycle events, and established a “Sunday Shkola” program for the children of Russian-speaking families living in the neighborhood. Sunday Shkola offers art and dance, instruction about Jewish holidays and traditions and Russian-language lessons.
Married five months ago, the U.S-born daughter of late-1970s immigrants, and the Israeli-born son of Moscow’s chief rabbi (and the rabbi’s day school-founder wife) have disparate backgrounds but share a commitment to Jewish life.
“She spoke Russian in America. I spoke English in Russia,” Rabbi Goldschmidt said. Together, “passionately, unapologetically Orthodox,” they’re reaching out to the Upper East Side’s growing population of Russian-speaking Jews (“the kids of Brooklyn people,” Rabbi Goldschmidt said), often inviting locals to Shabbat meals.
Rabbi Goldschmidt said the rabbinate has always been his “first choice” as a career. “I have two passions: people, and Judaism,” he said. “This is a job that combines both.”
Leading by example: Rabbi Goldschmidt had a decade of experience leading communal seders, getting his feet wet at the age of 17, when he was given the job of leading a seder for students in their 20s at his father’s Moscow synagogue. His training: “watching my parents” deal with guests at Shabbat meals and seders at home.
Focus on fiction: Last month Chizhik Goldschmidt left her job as digital editor at the Jewish Agency in order to devote her time to writing. In addition to writing freelance articles, she’s working on a book of short stories, many devoted to émigré themes, called “In the Eighteenth Minute.”