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Program educates Russian-speaking students on Jewish identity and more

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Renamed J.Lead 2.0, the annual leadership program for Russian-speaking Jews is returning for its fourth consecutive year with new content and more guest speakers.

Focusing on Russian-speaking post-secondary students, J.Lead organizes three events each yeah to educate participants on topics including team-building and Jewish identity.

“J. Lead is an opportunity for university students to take a step past just ‘being involved’ and try to take a leadership role through different avenues in the community,” said Lily Fostikova, one of the program’s organizers.

“Each student enters from their own unique place and then, thanks to the program, they’re able to develop themselves and give back to their community,” she says.

Initially only accepting students from Toronto, J.Lead has extended its participant intake to all over Ontario. Over the last three cohorts, 50 students have completed the program.

Many participants who complete the J.Lead program go on to work at the J. Academy Camp, a summer camp dedicated to Russian-speaking Jews, as well as becoming Jewski interns at their universities.

J.Lead alumni, Daniel Goldshtein, initially found out about the program through a Facebook share.

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“My family and I were never involved with the Jewish community so I wanted to learn more about it,” said Goldshtein. “I was looking to meet other students who share the same cultural background and the same passion for community growth.”

He completed the program in 2016 and has been working as a counsellor at J. Academy for the last two summers and is currently a senior intern with Jewski.

Other participants have said the concentration of Russian-Jews allows them to connect with others through their shared culture.

“I feel alienated from other Jews, mostly because they have been here for multiple generations whereas most Russian Jews have only been here for one generation or are still immigrating,” said Ben Dryden, J.Lead alumni from 2015.

Participating in J.Lead has allowed Dryden to surround himself with peers of the same background.

“I may not have been born in Russia, but I feel a huge connection to Soviet culture so it’s nice to be around others who grew up the same,” he says.

This year, J.Lead will be hosting two Shabbatons on Feb. 16-17 and March 23-24 in downtown Toronto, as well as a ski trip during the university winter reading week.

The program is made possible thanks to the general support of the Genesis Philanthropy Group and UJA federation of Greater Toronto.