Rabbi beams new TV program to emigre professionals in S.F.

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The Techiah Foundation took to the airwaves yesterday with the premiere of "Heritage," a 30-minute weekly television show aimed at teaching ex-USSR emigres about Judaism.

Speaking in Russian and using public-access cable TV, Techiah's director, Ukrainian-born Rabbi Stuart Margolin, plans to "break through 70 years of Soviet propaganda and ignorance, caused by persecution."

The program, which will air at 6:30 p.m. every Thursday on Channel 53, is designed to reach Russian-speaking professionals in San Francisco who know little about their Jewish heritage. Two other Russian-language programs are currently aired on Channel 47, but they are aimed at seniors.

Most of the emigre professionals, he said, are connected to cable service — and many have their own special-access receivers.

In his presentations, Margolin will "draw from the weekly Torah portion, Kabbalah, scientific sources and psychology."

The newcomers, he said, may have sent their children to religious school, to Jewish day schools and to synagogue, but they have remained uninvolved in their own faith. And that, says the 27-year-old rabbi, is going to have to change.

"We're dealing with beginners," said Margolin, who did outreach among emigres in New York and Los Angeles before moving to San Francisco.

"Russian Jews are very educated people. They had much to do to get settled in a new life in this country. But now they are ready to look into meaning — to say, 'OK, so what makes us Jews?' We have the expertise in how to present this information to them in a likable manner. We can reflect back on the Russian movies, or the stories we all heard as children."

As a 19-year-old living in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, Margolin began reckoning with questions of identity.

"I came from a typical Soviet family, completely secular," he said. "But my parents would impress on me how important it was for a Jew to work harder than others to get to the same place, and I began to wonder why. Who are we, how are we different, why have we been discriminated against historically?"

Margolin's search led him to the Rabbinical College of America, a Lubavitch institution in New Jersey. Since graduating five years ago, he has cast a wide net over American emigre communities.

"Now is the time to put Jewish education of emigres on the much larger scale," he said. "In 20 years, the Jewish community has successfully resettled near 40,000 Soviet Jews. We need to teach them how to be and live Jewish. Otherwise, all of those millions of dollars and incredible human effort will go to waste."

If the newcomers do not feel they are a part of the Jewish world, the viability of Jewish agencies will suffer, he said.

"The degrading, 'We help you before, you help us now' is not working," he said.

The Techiah Foundation already publishes the San Francisco Jewish Gazette in Russian, a free, 20-page tabloid.

Margolin, who has also done outreach in Chicago and St. Paul, Minn., is traveling in the wake of Christian missionary groups who sink money and resources into reaching Russian-speaking Jews: "Summer camps, afterschool care, concerts…all-color literature in Russian and weekly TV show. They [spare] no money to replenish the ranks."

Techiah, which is Hebrew for "renaissance," is working to build bridges with the emigre business community. The foundation offers courses and seminars in Hebrew language and Judaism.

After crafting a network of supporters in the professional world, the foundation plans to reach out to Gen-Xers with a Web site, according to Margolin.

The Soviet regime "deprived us from beauty and grandeur of Judaism," he said. "In America, we have the chance to reclaim it."

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.