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Shai Baitel


Helping Us to See the World Better

Posted: 06/06/2012 2:21 pm

The Russian American Foundation marks its Fifteen Year Anniversary

Recently, Google's co-founder Sergey Brin revealed an early prototype of glasses that are promising to change our cyber lifestyle. Having been in development for 2-3 years, these glasses have built-in camera, GPS and offer email and web searches on surface of glasses. Prototypes of this product are now being tested outside Google's offices.

Google attempts to changing the way we look at the world and possibly changing the way we see and understand. Brin again proves to be a key innovator. But we have to thank his father that Brin grew up in an environment that allowed him to become the pioneer he is today. In a way, it was Michael Brin who managed to look at the world he was living in in a way that would radically change his perception.

In interviews, including with Mark Malseed, co-author of The Google Story, Sergey's father told the story of explains how he realized in the 1970s that there was no future for him, a Jew, and his family in the USSR. Experiencing latent anti-Semitism and exclusion from university careers, particularly in physics, he overcame institutional hurdles set up for Jews, as well as harassment. Meeting counterparts from the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, at a mathematics conference in Warsaw he realized the extent of Soviet propaganda and oppression. He resolved to get himself and his family out to the United States.

It is this quality of looking at things from a different angle or perspective that Sergey seems to have inherited from his father. Would we have Google as we know it if the Brin family had not left? It is speculation, but there is no doubt that Russian immigrants, particularly Jewish ones, flourished in their new home countries. It is difficult to overstate their impact, particularly in the United States and Israel, where they have left an indelible mark and enriched science, culture and other areas.

Did you know about the achievements and contributions of the Russian community? You should. The talent and creativity of Russian immigrants are reasons to celebrate and be celebrated. For the past ten years, the Russian American Foundation has been the key institution cultivating these talents and gifted individuals. The Foundation has done and continues to do an impressive job living up to and exceeding its stated mission to encourage "interest in and understanding of Russian heritage among all communities in the US, as well as to promote reciprocate interest in American heritage among global communities of the former Soviet Union." Moreover, the Foundation excels at engaging in activities in showcasing, supporting, and preserving Russian heritage, culture and language. And we all are beneficiaries of the activities because we realize the extent of talent and culture, such as in theater, ballet, visual arts, or music, we gained from those who came from the USSR and, later, Russia.

The Russian American Foundation's co-Founders Marina Kovalyov and Rina Kirshner can be proud of these achievements and the deserved celebrations will start tonight at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York City's Mayor Michael Bloomberg will be in attendance, and the event will, simultaneously, mark the beginning of Russian Heritage Month, which celebrates its impressive tenth year. The Russian Heritage Month offers a fantastic opportunity to witness the splendid diversity and quality of Russian culture.

One of the outstanding groups participating in the program is "Lost and Found," a theater ensemble headed by Anna Zicer. She defines the group as an investigative theater laboratory, with its members being first-generation Russian Jews who had escaped to the United States. "They are looking for a common thread," she said in a telephone interview, as many of them have similar identities. The name of the show they present during the Russian Heritage Month is called "Doroga," or journey in Russian, and it follows the daily process, the daily thinking and realization of what their lives might have been, if their families had not embarked on a path to their new lives outside the now former USSR.

The Russian American Foundation's scope of activities seems ever expanding beyond the showcasing and celebration of Russian talent and excellence in the United States. The bilateral relations between the United States and Russia are a two-way street and Foundation leaders Marina Kovalyov and Rina Kirshner believe that "the peoples of the United States and Russia are able to support each other, stand shoulder to shoulder and to develop friendly relations and mutual understanding" between these two countries.

This couldn't be demonstrated more convincingly than by the Russian America Foundation's sending a delegation of New York City firefighters to Moscow to participate in an epic "Battles on Ice," a hockey tournament pitting members of the FDNY against EMERCOM, Russia's Emergency Control Ministry. The tournament brought together emergency response workers from the U.S. and Russia to foster a spirit of camaraderie and friendly competition after the teams collaborated throughout the year in sharing best practices in their fields. The FDNY had some help from NY Rangers alumni, while Russia's "Legends of Hockey" club helped round out EMERCOM's lineup, in a tournament meant to compliment the partnership between the U.S. and Russia on disaster preparedness. Despite a tradition of fierce on-ice rivalry between the two nations, the atmosphere at the tournament was one of friendly competition and mutual respect -- and a shared admiration for the game of hockey.

At a time when the U.S.-Russian relations at a governmental level are frosty, the positive impact of civil society organizations, such as the Russian American Foundation, and their initiatives, such as the Russian Heritage Month, cannot be overstated. In its fifteenth year, the Foundation, through its energetic leadership, is the dynamic force that highlights the contributions and achievements of the justifiably proud Russian community to its American friends. In a way, the Foundation helps us to see and understand our world better more than ever. Sergey Brin sure would be proud.