Engagement of Russian-Speaking Jews

Why is this important?

Russian-speaking Jews are a large group within the overall Jewish population in the GTA. Most Jewish institutions and organizations have multiple touch points with Russian-speakers in the Greater Toronto Area. This community enriches Jewish life in Toronto by contributing their intellectual and cultural capital, as well as contributing positively to the diversity of Toronto’s Jewish community. Russian-speaking Jews in York Region are very engaged in Jewish life, and are active members of the JCC Schwartz/Reisman Centre, Maon Noam Congregation Canada, Chabad Romano Centre, the Jewish Russian Community Centre of Ontario, as well as others.

The national household survey reports that Russian is the mother tongue of 13% of Greater Toronto’s Jewish people.   Most knowledgeable observers believe that the percentage is nearly twice as high– about 25%. It is difficult to obtain a precise number through as there is a belief that Russian-speaking Jews are underrepresented in the 2011 National Household Survey because participation was optional, and there is a history of wariness within this community about providing information through an official census.

Over time we hope that these numbers will be clarified and confirmed. Assuming that the actual number is between 13% and 25% , this is an important group within the community.

What are the trends?

The most active Russian-speaking participants are between the ages of 10-45 years of age. Teens, students, young professionals and young families are key segments in this group. Most of this active cohort tends to be secular; however, during Jewish holidays and life cycle events, they tend to practice Orthodox Judaism.

What’s new?

New programs for teens and students have gained in popularity over the past five years, and program offerings have expanded. An example is UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s J Roots’ new summer camp for children from Russian-speaking families; and UJA’s J. Academy which continues to grow in popularity, and has been fully subscribed for the past two summers. Limmud FSU- a Jewish learning and engagement festival with a global reach – has become an important program in the GTA and a model for other communities around the world. UJA’s Jewish and Modern (JAM) is a new outreach program which engages young adults in the Russian-speaking Jewish community. Russian-speaking Jews are involved in many programs including PJ Library, UJA’s Joshua Institute for Jewish Communal Leadership and Jewski (Hillel Ontario’ program for Russian-speaking Jews on Campus).

How are we doing?

UJA’s outreach and engagement efforts are beginning to take hold. Integration of members of the Russian-speaking Jewish community is demonstrable as they take on leadership roles within the Jewish community and lead the launch of new initiatives that are becoming models for the general Jewish community.