Lilia and Vlad Gorshteyn

Lilia’s Jewish upbringing was very different from the completely non-religious upbringing we associate with Russian Jewry – for two reasons. First, is that Lilia grew up in Uzbekistan, which was part of the Former Soviet Union (FSU), but which did not discourage religious practice to the extent that Russia did. Second, is that Lilia grew up in a Sephardic family that was traditionally observant and active in their Jewish community.

Lilia and her husband, Vlad, immigrated to the U.S. in 1991. They first arrived in L.A. as refugees, benefitting immensely from the aid and support of the JCC in L.A., as well as government grants for their formal education. 15 years ago they had the opportunity to relocate to Silicon Valley with their six and two-year-old daughters. They joined Shir Hadash, where their two daughters had their Bat Mitzvahs and continued in congregational work.

But something was sorely missing for Lilia. There were so few other Jews at Shir Hadash from Russia or any other state of the FSU for her to connect with. Knowing this, Rabbi Melanie Aron at Shir Hadash told Lilia about the Russian Jewish group Rabbi Ilana Baird was forming at APJCC. That was three years ago, and Lilia has been actively involved in Russian Jewish programs at APJCC ever since.

“It’s a community where you can be with people who are like you,” Lilia says. She adds, “people with whom you can comfortably share your life and help them as they help you — as a family.” The community gets together for Jewish holiday celebrations, Torah study, talks by Rabbi Ilana while hiking, art projects to make mezuzot and tallit, and discussions about a wide range of topics, such as the Jewish way of dealing with the psychology of forgiveness, or the weekly Parsha.

Lilia also welcomes the opportunity to help Russian Jewish immigrants develop a true sense of their Jewish identity.

The Russian Jewish community at APJCC helps Lilia fulfill what she describes as her life mission — “To teach people how to give.” Having, herself, transitioned from being the receiver of much aid and support from the JCC in L.A. and the government when she arrived as a refugee 15 years ago, Lilia has dedicated herself to being a giver as one of Rabbi Ilana’s most intimately involved advisors and committee workers for Russian Jewish programs at APJCC.

“I want to change the mentality of my fellow immigrants from the Former Soviet Union from that of being cared for to that of caring for others.” Speaking of which, Lilia adds, “I love Rabbi Ilana’s spirit, and how she gives of herself for the Russian Jewish community. She makes everything we do in Russian Jewish programs at APJCC so beautiful.”