Anyone who has spent any time on the east side of West Hartford around Farmington Avenue knows that there is a vibrant community of elderly Russians in the neighborhood. In Elizabeth Park, at the Delicacy market, in the pharmacies, and on the streets, there they are, walking and talking. And talking. And talking.
They are the public face of the New American Seniors – older immigrants who began meeting over two decades ago under the auspices of the Mandell JCC as the Association of World War Two Veterans. They fought and suffered and survived the great struggle against Nazism in which the U.S. and Russia were allies. Now some 75 strong, they will be honored on May 6 at an event at Congregation Beth Israel with special medals from the Russian government commemorating the 70th anniversary of victory.
The seniors are, of course, beneficiaries of the movement for Soviet Jewry, which galvanized Jews around the world to save their Russian co-religionists from hardship and discrimination after the war. But while we on the outside had come to regard Russia as the enemy, for the New American Seniors, it was something else as well.
“It’s your homeland, no matter how tough it may have been to survive as a Jew,” Odessa native Lucy Dratva, who coordinates the group, told the Ledger’s Cindy Mindell. “Antisemitism was a bad thing, but if you forget about that part of life and look at it in a different way, you remember your childhood, your school and teachers, the opera house, beautiful food – what people do everywhere when they think about their homeland.”
Jewish communal institutions all across Connecticut stepped up to help, representing the kind of support for immigrants that has characterized not only American Jewry but also so many other ethno-religious groups in this country. Special acknowledgement needs to be given to Beth Israel, which from the beginning has provided inestimable spiritual and material help to the Russian immigrants.
But above all, a hearty mazel tov to the New American Seniors. Thank you so much both for your past service in a great cause and for the enrichment you have brought to our community.