Being Russian and Jewish with Michelle Grinberg
ChiTribe asks Michelle Grinberg to tell us more about her experience as a Russian Jew in Chicago and being involved with RAJE and JLIFE Chicago. Michelle traveled with RAJE to Israel in 2017 on a special program designed for Russian Jews to learn about their heritage. Learn more about Michelle’s experience and get involved today!
You were born in America, but you consider yourself a Russian Jew?
Yes, I am Russian. While I was born in America, my family immigrated here from Russia just two years before I was born. I was raised with very soviet values, Russian was my first language and is still the primary language spoken with my family. I identify as Russian more so than American!
How has your Jewish identity been affected by your heritage?
During one of the courses from my RAJE program, we discussed what it was like for our parents. One quote I heard was, “Our parents were such proud Jews, but at the same kept it on the down low.” So many of our Russian parents and relatives really lived this way when they were growing up. It affects us all still today.
What do you do Jewish in the city?
What do you for fun?
I am a total foodie. On the weekends you can find me trying out a new brunch place, exploring the city, and out with friends. I just discovered “Ema” in River North and there is nothing like great chummus…
What do you do for work?
I teach Kindergarten and First Grade for the Chicago Public Schools.
Favorite part of Shabbat?
Being able to unplug and really connect with my friends minus all the distractions!
What countries have you visited?
Portugal, Spain, France, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Canada, Israel
What is your experience interacting with Jews in other countries?
While visiting a few countries in Europe, I was able to visit the Jewish Quarter in France and Czech Republic where there was a synagogue, Israeli restaurants, Jewish shops, and other tourists looking to learn about the Jewish presence abroad.
How did you get involved in RAJE?
I was looking for a way to not only get back to Israel, but to meet more people like myself, Russian American Jews. I stumbled across a RAJE ad on Facebook and looked into it right then! I went on this 14 day Israel trip and gained a much deeper understanding of my Jewish identity. I also attended a RAJE reunion in New York. JLife in Chicago, who hosts the RAJE program, also hosts a variety of events for Russian American Jews in the Chicagoland area such as BBQs, challah bakes, and a variety of classes offered both in the suburbs and in the city that are filled with food and schmoozing.
What is this trip?
RAJE is a program designed for Russian American Jews to learn not only about Judaism, but to connect our Russian heritage and create an understanding of what our families and ancestors experienced. Learn more>>
While Birthright programing went later in the evening and (maybe this was just my trip) we were not allowed to leave the hotel at night, RAJE allowed us to explore the town on our own in the evenings. – Michelle
Who is this trip for?
This trip is for young professional Russian American Jews between the ages of 18-32.
Do you have to be super religious?
No! To be accepted on this trip, you have to want to learn more and have the potential to grow. The point is to educate and expose young professionals to these practices.
Where are the Chicago participants from?
The participants that were in my group came from all over – some drove over from Buffalo Grove and the rest of us came up from the city!
How do we find more info?
Rabbi Doron Lazarus is the Rabbi for RAJE in Chicago, and he is always ready to chat. There are also alumni including myself that are happy to help as well.
What are some best practices when going on an immersive trip with many people?
Make it a point to meet everyone, even if they are from different states. I truly have made the best friends, connections with people that I did not have before, and have been to New York 5 times already to be with my second family. I have been to weddings, engagement parties, hiking, and just hanging, because I branched out so much more on this trip and made it a point to talk with everyone.