Growing up, I rarely contemplated my Jewish identity. I was part of a Council for Unity chapter at Edward R. Murrow High School, where I was busy working on projects that would unite individuals from a wide range of backgrounds. Somewhere along the way I realized that it was important to understand where I came from — and, even more, to appreciate my identity.
Fortunately being Jewish in America meant having the generous opportunity to go on a free trip to Israel that typically costs more than $2,000; like most Russian-speaking Jews living in Brooklyn I was not going to miss out on this experience. I was fortunate to be chosen by the Russian American Jewish Experience program to go on a free trip to Israel.
The trip was an exciting firsthand experience exploring a heritage rich in values and meaning. It was also a trip of fun, out-of-the-ordinary experiences like riding camels and hiking alongside Israel’s gorgeous landscapes.
After the trip I felt more comfortable in my Jewish shoes and I walked into Tanger Hillel at Brooklyn College, an organization for Jewish student life on campus. During my college years I became part of a network that would be invaluable to my professional and personal development. I have taken on leadership roles in Hillel that have provided me with “real life” experiences that extend beyond what I have learned from textbooks in college, although I value that knowledge as well. I even made connections to scholarships and jobs within my field of study and have gone on highly subsidized trips across the United States, where I have met Jews all over the nation.
I have come to understand that being Jewish meant more than having a history; it meant belonging to a community that holds the resources and wisdom to help you succeed. It is a living heritage that teaches true success comes from focusing on what you can give rather than what you can gain.
It is exciting to see the Russian Jewish community reclaim a sense of oneness and moreover a responsibility for helping one another. There is a community ready to support you, if you reach out. I encourage you to attend even one Jewish event and join the network of possibilities.
Regina Akhenblit, 21, was born in Moldova and immigrated to the United States when she was two months old. She is studying psychology at Brooklyn College, where is student president of the college’s Hillel. She has served as president of the college’s Russian Jewish Club.