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Jewish Family Services at Richmond creates immigrant documentary

Published: November 15, 2012, 12:54 am ET
Collegian Reporter

University of Richmond Hillel and Jewish Family Services (JFS) is producing a university-made documentary about Jewish families that immigrated to Richmond from the Soviet Union in the 1980s and 1990s.

Because of anti-Semitism and economic hardship, about 800 families came to Richmond with hopes of finding a better life. JFS was one of the main groups to organize the endeavor, said David Stevens, a sophomore member of Hillel, an organization for Jewish students on campus.

When the families came from the Soviet Union, the entire city of Richmond came together and gave them housing, jobs and taught the immigrants English, Stevens said.

“Immigration stories are really important to our faith,” Stevens said. “We like to make sure that our stories are told, so that we can learn from our past.”

The story of the immigrants had a strong influence on the city of Richmond and its people, Stevens said. It is important that this story is told because the city’s history affects its people, he said.

“This story is as good an example of any of what it means to seek freedom,” said Rabbi Andrew Goodman, director of Hillel. “It shows what it means to be a part of people who are oppressed by others in one place, but not in another place.”

It is important to share the stories while the people who can tell them are still able to share them, he said. This documentary will educate the community members by showing them what happened more than 20 years ago, he said.

The project began last July, and the goal is to premiere the documentary by January 2014, which will be the 25th anniversary of the immigration, he said.

There are five phases of the project, Goodman said. The project is in phase three, which means that the interviews are being conducted and filmed, he said.

Of the 800 immigrants who came to Richmond, members of the documentary project were able to reach 150 of them. Fifty people agreed to be interviewed for the documentary, Goodman said.

There are many opportunities to get involved with the program, Stevens said. There are ways for students of any major to help with the documentary, he said.

Students who choose to get involved could assist with research, interviewing, filming or recruiting others to help with the project, Stevens said.

“If people are thinking of this as just a Jewish project, I think this is a missed opportunity,” Goodman said. “The same problems the Jews faced in the former Soviet Union resonate for non-Jews as well.”

By 2015 the team working on the project hopes to have a museum exhibit finished, Goodman said. The documentary will air in of Richmond, Saint Petersburg, Russia and possibly New York, he said.

Aside from Stevens, seniors Shir Bodner and Alexa Dumit, and junior Josh Grice are working on the documentary project, Goodman said. There will be at least 20 students involved in the project, and as more classes get involved, more students will also be part of the project, he said.

Contact staff reporter Brooke Knetzger at brooke.knetzger@richmond.edu

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