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Dobro pozhalovat” means “welcome” in Russian. That is exactly what Rabbi Ilana Baird was looking for when she came to Silicon Valley as a transplant from the Soviet Union and Israel, to volunteer at the Addison-Penzak JCC in 2011. She envisioned an intentionally curated path to welcome the diverse population of Russian-speaking Jewish children, adults, seniors, and families into the South Bay’s wider Jewish community.

Born out of the single monthly program that Rabbi Baird started just over 10 years ago, Jewish Silicon Valley’s Russian-Speaking Jewish Programs (RSJ) now include an extensive catalog of educational, social, and cultural opportunities for all ages, and today boasts a Facebook community of more than 1,700 people. Most importantly, Russian-speaking Jews in the region have a hub where they can connect, celebrate, learn and explore their Jewish identities. Rabbi Baird told the Jewish Federations of North America, “I see the community I built as Abraham’s tent, open on four sides. Everyone can come in through different entrances. Whether they come for music programs, mental health support, social activities, social justice, learning, or anything else — they are welcome.”[1]

Two popular programs, HEDER (ages 3-9) and Club Mitzvah (ages 10-14) are unique ways for RSJ to welcome Russian-Speaking young people into Jewish life. RSJ is greatly supported by Russian-speaking community leaders, with dedicated volunteers working on everything from fundraising, to planning and organizing events.

RSJ’s unique mission to serve Russian-speaking Jews is another example of the inclusive community that Jewish Silicon Valley embodies as we harness the power of community to improve lives, build bridges of understanding, and strengthen the Jewish people here, in Israel, and around the world.”

I see the community I built as Abraham’s tent, open on four sides. Everyone can come in through different entrances. Whether they come for music programs, mental health support, social activities, social justice, learning, or anything else — they are welcome, and they will stay for other things as well.

Rabbi Ilana Baird

We recently joined Heder for kids ages 3-6 on Sundays with Rabbi Ilana Baird at Los Gatos JCC. I am so excited that such a program exists for Russian speaking Jewish families. It is important for our family to keep Russian language as well as observing Jewish traditions and this particular program meets both criteria. I can see how much love and thought was put into every single session we have attended this far from building and decorating sukkos to listening to the mysterious story of Golem wandering the streets of Prague. My kids are looking forward to our next HEDER sunday class!

My kids love to attend HEDER classes. There are always questions after each class about Israel and I love it. Kids are always waiting for the next class. They love crafts, songs stories and teachers... As a parent it’s not always easy to find the right place and time to talk about roots and traditions. Thank you HEDER for doing it.

Olga