As the city’s Russian-speaking Jewish community grew by the late 1990s, Jewish organizations in south Brooklyn frequently sponsored daylong celebrations of Russian culture, emphasizing art and music.
By the early aughts, those events expanded into weeklong festivals, also based in south Brooklyn, where the bulk of the city’s Jewish émigrés lived.
Now, it’s an entire month, and it takes place throughout the five boroughs.
The 11th annual Russian Heritage Month®, organized by the Russian American Foundation, and in cooperation with the mayor’s office and the New York Post, will begin with an opening ceremony on Tuesday, June 4, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and run through June, featuring a few dozen programs in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Long Island.
The month-long program, whose four dozen co-sponsoring organizations include local politicians and the Russian Ministry of Culture, prominent corporations and Jewish organizations that serve the Russian-speaking community, is a reflection of the community’s growing size and affluence, says Marina Kovalyov, founding president of the Russian American Foundation.
“They are becoming more and more important, and more influential,” says Kovalyov, who grew up in St. Petersburg and is a member of The Jewish Week board of directors. An art historian and museum curator in her homeland, she worked at the Brooklyn Museum and at a marketing-public relations agency here before founding the organization originally called the Russian American Arts Foundation, which sponsors a variety of activities during the year.
The Foundation, like Russian Heritage Month, does not exclusively serve the community of Jews from the former Soviet Union, but the estimated 250,000 Russian-speaking Jews in the city constitute the majority of New York’s residents with roots in the USSR.
Like the Russian-speaking Jewish community, Russian Heritage Month has a largely cultural bent, though many of the vendors at the family-oriented day of music, health and sports activities in Brooklyn’s Asser Levy/Seaside Park on June 9 will be kosher.
New vendors at the park will include Astoria Federal Savings, Midwood Ambulance and Lindt Chocolate.
Next month’s program (russianmericanfoundation.org) will include a film festival at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, an art exhibition at the National Arts Club, ice hockey games at Floyd Bennett Field and Chelsea Piers, and an exhibition about the Soviet Union’s “Jewish Autonomous Region” at Columbia University, and performances by the New Names Children’s Choir at sites in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
A highlight will be a performance by violinist Philippe Quint, on a 1708 Stradivarius, on Wednesday, June 19, at The Brownstone in Manhattan.
Russian Jewish Heritage Month, says Kovalyov, serves as a bridge between Americans and Russia, and between Russian-speaking Jews and American-born Jews, who attend each year in greater numbers.
Total attendance has risen over the last decade from about 5,000 people to an estimated 50,000, she says. “A lot of people bring their friends.”