Senator Charles Schumer, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, and Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, along with many others in the Russian community, helped celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of UJA-Federation of New York’s Russian Division at the 2013 Charity Ball held June 2nd.

Russian Division
From left, Congressman Jerrold Nadler with honoree Felix Komarov and Senator Charles Schumer. Photo: Ross Den Photography

More than 200 guests turned out for the event held at the Harmonie Club in Manhattan that honored Felix Komarov and Michael Zurakhinsky and paid tribute to the Council of Jewish Émigré Community Organizations (COJECO), which recently became a network agency of UJA-Federation.

“Almost 50 years ago, Russian Jews did not have the freedom to practice their religion,” said Jerry Levin, president of UJA-Federation. “I celebrate the leaders and longtime devoted supporters of the Russian Division. Today, I am so proud that we join together as one community to bring UJA-Federation’s mission to life by caring for those in need, strengthening the Jewish people, and supporting a passion for Jewish life and learning.”

Senator Schumer joined in thanking Russian Jews for helping to making the world a better place. “Thank you for being here and supporting UJA-Federation,” he said. “Continued success to this great Russian-Jewish community, which we’re so proud of.”

Congressman Nadler added his congratulations on years of outstanding work by the Russian Jewish community and also presented Komarov with the Russian Division Global Leadership Award.

“Felix Komarov is the worthy recipient of this award,” Congressman Nadler said. “A dedicated and committed donor of the Russian Division, he has given his time and expertise for nearly 20 years.”

Russian Division Charity Ball
Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, left, with honoree Michael Zurakhinsky. Photo: Ross Den Photography

Komarov accepted the award and expressed his gratitude in Russian, which Gene Rachmansky interpreted. Rachmansky was the dinner chair along with Galina Pincow.

“Deep thanks for your appreciation of my efforts with this wonderful organization that, I’d like to note, helps people in need irrespective of religion,” Komarov said. “I am very grateful to everyone in attendance tonight.”

The Charity Ball fell on the same day that earlier brought out the New York Jewish community for the Celebrate Israel Parade.

“It is the largest pro-Israel gathering outside of Israel, and UJA-Federation is the largest funder of the parade,” noted John S. Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of UJA-Federation, who thanked the guests for their support.

Russian Division’s Heart and Soul

Ruskay acknowledged one of the founding members of the Russian Division, Lilly Wajnberg, who has also served as the division’s director for the last 10 years and will retire in September.

“Some 25 years ago, Lilly and Larry Wajnberg met the legendary Ernie Michel—then executive vice president of UJA-Federation—and along with other Russian Jews began to give back to the global Jewish world,” Ruskay said, “Lilly, you are the heart and soul of the Russian Division. Thank you for the critical role you have played.”

The up and coming generation was recognized as well when Michael Zurakhinsky received the Lydia Vareljan Young Leadership Award for his generosity and dedication to building the Russian-Jewish community of the next generation. He is a Wexner Fellow and has served on the Russian Leadership’s executive committee.

Zurakhinsky gratefully accepted the award and told of his search for Russian-Jewish identity when he discovered COJECO and became involved with the BluePrint Fellowship project.

As he presented a special tribute to COJECO, Assemblyman Brook-Krasny noted that the organization made a powerful impact on the Russian Jewish community. “COJECO has made an incredible bridge between the Russian-speaking community and the Jewish community,” he said. The assemblyman was also COJECO’s founding executive director.

Edward Mermelstein and Roman Shmulenson, COJECO’s current president and executive director, accepted the special tribute. “We are humbled and honored to accept the award,” Shmulenson said. “We have a lot to be proud of and tremendous work ahead. It’s up to us to help make possible a meaningful Jewish life for the thousands and thousands of Russian Jews.”