Young-adult emigres mix and mingle at Russian club

All they wanted was a place to hang out.

But when twentysomethings Anna Flider and Tatiana Glukhaya arrived in San Francisco from the former Soviet Union — anxious to connect with other young-adult emigres — they had nowhere to go.

Four years later, thanks to their initiative and encouragement from San Francisco Hillel Citywide Services, there is a place for them, and other young emigres, to go: the Russian Club of San Francisco Hillel.

"Tatiana and I didn't even know each other back then," recalled the now-25-year-old Flider, who emigrated here from Ryzan, a town located near Moscow. "It was a coincidence that we each separately approached Hillel at the same time asking for the club. Hillel liked the idea, introduced us, and that's how it all began."

With a mailing list that has skyrocketed from five to 500 over the last few years, the Russian Club today has established itself as one of Hillel's most active programs. The club's activities are conducted in Russian and include religious, social and educational programs.

According to Tessie Topol, San Francisco Hillel's director of Russian programming, "There is no other club like this in California. Within Hillel, the only other student-motivated Russian club is in New York."

Aimed at 18- to 25-year-olds, the goal of the Russian Club is to orient young emigres to the Jewish community and university life. A central feature of the club is its 15-member New American Leadership Council, which, under Topol's direction, sets its own agenda.

Topol said that in addition to offering a range of activities, the club is connected with the Moscow Hillel, which provides it with ideas for projects and materials in Russian. The club also provides valuable information on colleges and universities in the area and offers advice on how to transfer credits from Russian universities.

"The number one question for newcomers is where to study," said Glukhaya, a senior at San Francisco State University. "When I first came here [from Ukraine] I spent a lot of time doing things I wouldn't have, had I known better. For instance, for about a year I thought there was only one college, the local community college. I didn't know I had a choice."

Flider, a student at Skyline College in San Bruno, said that at a recent newcomer night, emigres attending a range of Bay Area universities shared their experiences. "That's something you can't get from a social worker," said Flider, noting that a video taken that night is being made for distribution to local Jewish agencies.

In addition to hosting newcomer nights, the Russian Club sponsors an array of activities including guest lectures, Shabbat dinners, holiday events, Torah study, an annual trip to Israel and joint programs with American students at Hillel.

"When the club first started, our goal was to get young emigres and Russian Jews together to find a sense of community. Once that started to happen, we were ready to talk about ourselves as Jews, and the feelings connected to our Jewish identity," said Flider.

San Francisco Hillel Citywide Services, a nonprofit agency catering to college-age students and young adults, is funded by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

For information about the Russian Club, call Topol at (415) 333-4922.