It\'s Friday night, and you\'re at the table for another week\'s end. A Shabbat dinner like any other -- wine, challah and blessings partaken amid some gregarious company. Oh, and the predominant language spoken here is Russian.
February 5, 1998

It’s Friday night, and you’re at the table for another week’s end.A Shabbat dinner like any other — wine, challah and blessingspartaken amid some gregarious company. Oh, and the predominantlanguage spoken here is Russian.

That’s right — Russian. You have just gotten a taste of a Shabbatevent hosted by the Russian-Jewish Social Club, a burgeoninggrass-roots organization designed to offer an outlet to young singleRussian Jews.

Only a year old, the Russian-Jewish Social Club has alreadycovered much ground, intertwining Russian, local and Jewish culturewith equal parts entertainment and education. Events scheduled forthe next few weeks include an International Folk Concert at the LosAngeles County Museum of Art (Feb. 22); a trip to the SkirballCultural Center (March 1); and a visit to the Getty Center (March15).

When St. Petersburg native Maya Elyashkevich moved to WestHollywood — a mecca for Russian immigrants — the psychologygraduate student was dumbfounded by the lack of activities forRussian young adults.

“There was a big community out here,” says Elyashkevich, 24, “butnothing organized for young Russian immigrants. It was alienating andhard to meet people.”

In April 1997, Elyashkevich turned to the Jewish Federation ofGreater Los Angeles in search of a singles outlet for Russian Jewsher age. Informed that there was none, she decided to initiate oneherself and found a supporter in Alla Feldman, program coordinator atthe Federation’s Bureau of Jewish Education. With Feldman’s help,Elyashkevich started the Russian-Jewish Social Club to cater tosingles, ages 20 to 35 (although some older members do frequent theclub).

“Initially, I made some fliers and put them up in the windows ofthe Russian stores,” says Elyashkevich. “Alla had listings of recentfamilies. I was introduced to Sasha Gorodetskaya, and, ever sincethen, we’ve been working together.”

Just two months in the States at the time, Gorodetskaya, a nativeof Kiev, approached the Federation regarding just such a club. Whenshe learned of Elyashkevich’s endeavor, Gorodetskaya decided to shareorganizing responsibilities.

“I don’t know what I’d do without her,” says Elyashkevich, of herpartner.

The Jewish Federation provides much of the club’s overhead andadministrative detail.

“We organize car pooling for almost all events,” saysElyashkevich. “For the Getty, we’re going to charter a bus.”

The club launched itself with a Hollywood Bowl picnic last May.

“We bought some food out of our own money, maybe 25 people showedup,” says Elyashkevich. “We all sat around the table, madeintroductions, talked about organizing the program.”

Cut to several months later, and now somewhere between 150 and 200people participate regularly. Past events have included museum jazzconcerts, biking and camping trips, a visit to Descanso Gardens, anda break-the-fast on Yom Kippur. Often, the group will end the day ata pizza parlor or coffeehouse.

Attorney Alik Segal, a regular participant, considers the club aunique and valuable asset to the community.

“It’s the only club for Jews from Russia,” says Segal. “Peopleuncomfortable with the language can gather and socialize. For recentimmigrants, that’s an important issue. For [the AmericanizedRussians], they’re just interested in meeting people with similarsensibilities.”

The group now meets every few weeks, and, although the primarygoal is to incorporate Russian émigrés into the localJewish-American fabric, Elyashkevich welcomes all guests, regardlessof background. She believes that exposure to non-Russians only helpsbroaden the horizons of those new to our sometimes overwhelmingAmerican culture.

“I want the club to continue growing,” says Elyashkevich, “andbecome connected to other Russian organizations in San Francisco, NewYork.”

But, for now, Elyashkevich and Gorodetskaya are content to seetheir brainchild come such a long way in so short a time.

“Many people are coming on a regular basis,” says Elyashkevich.”We open the door for people in the community who don’t have anyplace to go and want to learn about the Jewish culture. Now they havea place to go.”

For more information, Gorodetskaya can be reahed at (213)512-0225.

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