BROOKLINE – Around this time of year, Greater Boston has no shortage of public celebrations of Hanukkah, Christmas, or New Year’s, with menorahs and Christmas trees illuminating every other town square. But there’s hardly any place hosting a blowout party for Novy God, the elaborate, secular Russian New Year celebration marked by caviar, champagne, and a giant yolka tree – which looks a lot like a Christmas tree.
To ring in this new decade Russian-style, you’d need to head over to Center Makor, a Brookline community center dedicated to helping Russian-speaking Jews celebrate their heritage and forge links with the wider Jewish community. Since its founding in 2005, Center Makor – from the Hebrew word for “source” – has hosted talks, clubs, exhibitions, celebrations, and commemorations honoring the past and looking forward to a more inclusive future.
“Our vision is culture and education, and through all of this, integration,” said Vladimir Foygelman, president of the center he helped begin after he emigrated from Kiev in 1996. “This means we want a Jewish of Greater Boston or Massachusetts with Russian-speaking Jews, English-speaking Jews, Hebrew-speaking Jews, whatever-speaking Jews, and we will become one community with events and developments for the whole community, not just different parts. Culturally we’ll be together, spiritually we’ll be together.”
The Russian Jewish community in America has made significant strides toward achieving Foygelman’s vision of unity and integration with the wider world. But when Foygelman arrived from Kiev 23 years ago, hundreds of thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union were immigrating to America, and Greater Boston did not have many spaces where they could celebrate their culture and help prepare for their new lives.
Jewish Family & Children’s Service helped navigate the bureaucracy, and synagogues and JCCs hosted a piecemeal mix of clubs for those who spoke Russian. After Foygelman arrived, he and other members of the community recognized the need for one place to accomplish all of these missions under one roof. He applied for a grant from Combined Jewish Philanthropies to establish the first Russian-Jewish community center, and Center Makor was born.
Today, Center Makor is still funded mostly by CJP and therefore has no membership costs. It is located within a large campus in Brookline that also houses Congregation Kehillath Israel, New England Yachad (an organization for Jews with disabilities), and the soon-to-be-built Harold and Ronald Brown Family House senior living complex. Through numerous partnerships around Greater Boston, Center Makor is able to offer something for everyone: from Jewish holiday celebrations to chess matches to book signings to poetry readings to music recitals to dance classes. The center also helps fund-raise for Israel, and provides technical and marketing support for local cultural organizations. Foygelman is currently working on a collaboration known as the Jewish Art Initiative, which will provide space and support to a wide variety of local Jewish artists.
While many of the Center Makor events feature Russian performers, Foygelman says that more and more English speakers are coming, and programs are conducted in both Russian in English.
“Before we got only Russian-speaking Jews who came, for the last three years we always got a mixed audience,” said Foygelman. “Slowly, step by step, we’re changing the attitude that there is one part segregated to Russian-speaking Jews, and another part is English-speaking Jews.”