After a year of isolation and hardship, one thing is for certain: The importance of community cannot be understated.
Sasha Grebenyuk, one of the four founders of Jookender, has always recognized this. That’s why she started the nonprofit: to serve as a community organization for Russian-speaking Jewish families, many of whom are recent immigrants. Based out of Framingham, the program strives to create a safe and inclusive space for individuals and families in the Boston Jewish community, all while celebrating Jewish culture and heritage.
When the pandemic struck, many facets of normal life were put on pause, and nobody knew when things would resume again. Weeks turned to months. People around the world found themselves in seclusion, unable to see friends or loved ones for an indefinite amount of time. Despite having to cancel in-person events for the foreseeable future, Sasha and the Jookender organization did not hesitate in finding new ways to foster that important sense of belonging for their community. They developed a variety of virtual programs and online events that have allowed their members to feel connected to one another, even from afar.
Recognizing the degree of isolation for the elderly in particular, Jookender has sought opportunities to connect teens with elderly members of the Russian-speaking Jewish community. For Passover, teenagers participating in Jookender’s Social/Non-Profit Entrepreneurship Program put together gifts and distributed them to seniors throughout the MetroWest area. Though this Passover may have looked different from others, Jookender still managed to celebrate the holiday by providing some joy and comfort to those who needed it most.
Additionally, the nonprofit is currently running three different virtual programs for community members of all ages: Club Yeladim for children ages 5-12 offers myriad classes, including Jewish story time, lessons in French, Hebrew and Spanish, and introductions to chess, sewing and video production. Similarly, the teen program is hosting events ranging from Debate Club to the Social/Non-Profit Entrepreneurship Program. Club Chaverim, the adult program, gives members the opportunity to participate in courses such as pencil sketching, lessons on book publishing and discussions regarding wellness and self-care during stressful times. Both Club Yeladim and Club Chaverim members pay a yearly fee of under $200 and get all classes and events free.
All Jookender programs are supported by Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Jewish Federations of North America with funding from the Genesis Philanthropy Group, as well as by individual donors, including local businesses and generous community members.
Jookender strives to elevate its community and integrate its members, who often feel displaced, into the Greater Boston Jewish community and beyond while maintaining a unique sense of cultural identity and pride. Guided by the Judaic concept of tikkun olam (“repairing the world”), the organization recognizes that we are stronger as one. Through times of hardship, our communities are the glue that hold us together.
Lauren Silva is a Jookender teen alumni.
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