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Newspaper for Russian Jews marks quarter century

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Mark Groysberg is the founder, publisher and editor of Golos Obschini (The Voice of Community), a monthly newspaper. (Janice Arnold photo)

Golos Obschini, a Montreal-based Russian-language newspaper tailored to Jewish immigrants, is celebrating its 25th anniversary, a remarkable achievement for a publication serving a small market.

It’s known in English as “The Voice of Community.”

“I tried to stop a few times, but the community kept asking me to continue,” says publisher and editor Mark Groysberg. “It’s the only Russian paper here for a Jewish audience.”

Groysberg is able to carry on because this is essentially a one-man operation. From the basement of his home, the 70-year-old edits the monthly paper, sells advertising, deals with the printer, distributes copies and, quite often, tops up the approximately $1,000 overhead for each issue out of his pocket.

The only “staff” is a freelance proofreader. Most of the articles in the 24-page newspaper are contributed for little or no remuneration, or are written by Groysberg, whose “day job” is a real estate agent.

The content typically is Russian culture and history, Israel and current Jewish concerns like anti-Semitism; there’s always a page about health, a column teaching English, and obituaries. Local coverage is usually limited to major happenings, such as an election.

Groysberg has always seen the paper as a way of helping immigrants understand their new home.

Until about three years ago. Golos was published twice a month.

Today, Golos has a little over 200 subscribers, only half of whom pay the fee, he said. Some live in outlying areas like Longueuil and Chateauguay, and tend to be elderly. But 5,000 copies are run off each month, which are dropped off at some 100 locations, from Laval to the South Shore. Some content is online (www.unitedcommunityvoice.com)

Revenue consists of grants from the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal (JCF), which has supported the paper to varying degrees from the beginning, advertising and donations. “People occasionally give me maybe $500, $400, $100,” he said.

For many years, Groysberg has been a sort of ambassador of the Russian community, sitting on the boards of almost every major community organization. In 2007, Groysberg founded and is the president of the United Community of Russian Speaking Jews of Quebec, which organizes cultural and holiday activities and commemorative events, such as those held annually for the Babi Yar massacre and the Siege of Leningrad.

Groysberg was born to Holocaust survivors in the small Ukrainian town of Kamenets-Podolsky in 1949. He worked for many years as journalist in Ukraine and Chechnya, then a Soviet republic.

In 1990, just before the fall of the Soviet Union, he and his wife and their two children immigrated to Montreal.

Already past 40 and not knowing English or French, Groysberg struggled to get settled here. At one point he was juggling two or three part-time jobs and taking classes.

Like many earlier Russian Jewish immigrants, Groysberg came into the orbit of Chabad Rabbi Israel Sirota, one of the first to arrive in Montreal in the early 1970s. He suggested starting Montreal’s first Russian Jewish newspaper to serve in particular immigrants arriving following the chaos with communism’s collapse.

Among them was Groysberg’s older brother Yuri, a well-known editor, who immigrated in 1993 to Montreal.

Mark Groysberg was already busy enough trying to make a living. It seemed mad to take something so uncertain.

But Rabbi Sirota convinced him it could be done and offered to have Chabad pay for the printing. The Groysberg brothers got down to business.

This was the dawn of the digital age, and they had to learn how to publish on a computer.

Through JIAS, Groysberg was directed to the JCF, and Bobby Kleinman handed him his seed money – $12,000. “He said, ‘Do what you can with it.’” The first $500 went toward a computer. Groysberg worked on the paper at night in the small apartment he and his family were living in.

The debut issue rolled off the press at the end of 1994. Soon, the paper had its own office in Décarie Square, thanks to an offer from owner David Azrieli, who spoke Russian.

Calamity struck soon after. One day in 1995, Groysberg walked into the office to find it cleaned out, except for the telephone. Fortunately, he was insured, but it was a setback.

That year, his partner and brother moved to Vancouver.

Although Quebec has only about 60,000 Russian speakers, according to Groysberg’s estimate, five Russian newspapers are published here, two of them weeklies. They compete among themselves, but Groysberg said, “They’re not worried about me, I’m not much competition.”

He thinks at least 20,000 of them are Jewish, or have some Jewish connection, although that is not consistent with a far lower figure calculated by Federation CJA based on the Canadian census.

“We are proud that the readers phone us and send us letters with words of gratitude and appreciation of our work,” said Groysberg. “Our most important task is to promote our right to live in a modern society without fear, being proud of the fact that we belong to a people that deserves respect and appreciation for its great culture and huge achievements in all spheres of life.”

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