When Anna Vekhalevska, 28, moved to Washington from Ukraine a year and a half ago for work, she didn’t have any friends in the area. Then she found out about Druzya — the name means “friends” in Russian — a community for Russian-speaking Jews from the former Soviet Union.
The group creates opportunities for young adults to connect with others who have a similar language, religion and culture.
“It was extremely helpful for me because when I moved here I didn’t know anyone. And then thanks to this group, I met a whole bunch of people who are more or less similar to me because of our similar backgrounds,” said Vekhalevska. “It’s basically all my friends — like 95 percent of my friends and connections here in Washington, D.C., are either those people or someone who I met through them.”
Druzya co-founders Veronica Slootsky, Maxim Serebrennik and Allan Poteshman started the group nearly three years ago with a Facebook post asking people to join their Facebook group page. It now boasts nearly 150 members.
Events have included a hike in Shenandoah National Park, teaming up with the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry (NCSEJ) for a special briefing on Russia’s and Ukraine’s Jewish communities, and taking a road trip to New Jersey for Limmud FSU, a Jewish learning conference focusing on Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union.
“In the Soviet Union, Judaism was suppressed, so a lot of people from the former Soviet Union who are Jewish weren’t able to experience Jewish culture and have a Jewish education,” said Slootsky. “Part of [Druzya’s mission] is to [foster] a relaxed social atmosphere to introduce people to aspects of Judaism and also celebrate our unique approach to Judaism.”
Druzya members also participate in other community happenings, such as a recent event titled From Shtetl to Selfie: The Changing Face of Eastern European Jewry, where they received an update on the crisis in Ukraine and the work that the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee does helping Jewish communities in former Soviet Union countries. The event was created by JDC Entwine, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s young adult engagement initiative, in partnership with Genesis Philanthropy Group.
Poteshman, who was born in Rockville and whose mother is from Ukraine and father is from Uzbekistan, says there is a sizable Russian-Jewish community in the Washington area. He is noticing an increasing interest in the community to maintain the Russian language and Russian culture.
“There’s now a perspective that you should actually actively try to maintain your culture, and so that’s pretty unique and that’s one of the things that Druzya provides,” Poteshman said. “Russian Jews get brought into the larger Jewish culture, and while we are still a part of that culture, we have something specific that’s worth protecting and worth preserving.”
Druzya DC has a Facebook page at facebook.com/DruzyaDC.