For many Russian-speaking Jews, UJA-Federation of New York’s work is more than just a good cause, it’s part of their family history. At UJA-Federation’s Russian and Tech Divisions Signature Event, held on June 17th at the Edison Ballroom in Manhattan, multiple generations of Russian-speaking Jews from a wide range of backgrounds came together to celebrate the philanthropic and cultural achievements of the Russian-speaking Jewish community.

Russian division event Rus Yusupov Jane Rosenthal
Rus Yusupov in conversation with Jane Rosenthal.

“UJA-Federation touched my life in a very direct way,” said Irina Roller, a chair of the event, who came to America from Ukraine with her family at age 4. “It is thanks to the profound generosity of American Jews that my family was able to benefit from the many services funded by UJA-Federation.”

This childhood experience of coming to a new country with support from UJA-Federation and its beneficiary agencies is one that Roller has in common with Rus Yusupov, the co-founder and creative director of Vine, who was being honored with the Lydia Vareljan Leadership Award. In his acceptance speech, and in a conversation with Jane Rosenthal, the producer and CEO of Tribeca Enterprises, Yusupov talked about his love for art, his memories of immigrating to America, and his successful career in the tech industry.

When Yusupov entered school at age 5, he struggled to communicate his ideas in English, a language that was brand new to him. “It was really hard to get my ideas across, but I found myself drawing all the time and I got quite a bit of attention from my peers and my teachers from my drawings,” he recalls. As he got older, and his parents got him a computer, he discovered that he could apply this passion for art to working as a designer.

A Big Inspiration to Others

When Rosenthal asked him about his entrepreneurial spirit, Yusupov spoke about how starting his own business seemed like a natural path to him after watching his father do the same. And it’s a common career path for immigrants, he explained. “You don’t speak the language of a place, you don’t have the connections in an industry. You have no other choice but to start your own business and to do your own thing,” he said.

With the success he’s achieved, Yusupov has become a role model to other members of the Russian-speaking Jewish community. Steve Spurgat, the award presenter and the managing director at Big Human, the design studio that Yusupov founded, shared an anecdote about meeting a young Bukharian man from Queens who said that Yusupov was “a big inspiration to him and to others in his community,” Spurgat recounted.

Yusupov noted that immigration is a crucial not just in his life but in human history. On both a small scale, when a family moves for a new job, or at the global level when shifting climates and continents have caused massive migrations, it’s a force that affects us all.

But most immigrants “just want a new or better place to live,” Yusupov said. “Will they find it? I certainly did thanks to the determination of my parents, and the help of UJA-Federation and their network agencies. It’s a gift from one generation to the next.”

Having received these gifts from the generation before him, Yusupov’s thoughts turned to what he could do for generations to come and he invited the audience to join him in that effort. He shared a quote from his friend, Jason Silva: “The new definition of billionaire is to positively affect the lives of a billion people.” Yusupov added, “Let’s inspire the next generation. Who wants to be a new billionaire with me?”