Featured Stories

Personal stories of Jewish connections in St. Petersburg

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Through a global partnership with The Jewish Agency, Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County is nurturing a resurgence of Jewish life in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Here are stories of young people in St. Petersburg (in their own words) who enjoy meaningful connections to their Jewish identity through our partnership.

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I’m Sofia Barkan, 23 years old, a sociologist. I think of myself as a typical representative of the younger generation of St. Petersburg’s Jewish community.

As a child, I studied in a Jewish day school and was familiar with Jewish tradition. Yet, looking back, I realize that it was actually The Jewish Agency that became my true gateway to meaningful and exciting Jewish life.

My connection with The Jewish Agency started from summer camps. It was there that for the first time I discovered how exciting Jewish tradition and Jewish learning can be.

I gradually engaged in camps and other educational programs, helping me feel that I am part of the Jewish people – and also that Israel is very important for me. I visited Israel for the first time with the Moreshet project, and this visit still remains one of the most powerful and memorable experiences of my life. I learned much about the Jewish world today and started to understand what the community is all about. I made new friends and created my Jewish social network.


During the years of my being a participant of and activist for Jewish Agency programs, the Jewish community gradually became an important part of my existence. Having grown older, I realized that I cannot live without that – I need to stay involved and, most importantly, I want to share my Jewish knowledge and passion with other young people.


I started to look for a way to do that. Among the many opportunities now available in the St. Petersburg community, I chose to become a counselor. I joined The Jewish Agency counselors’ leadership and training course; I worked as a counselor at camps and educational projects for more than six years. I was happy to work with kids and teens and help them to discover their Jewish identity as my counselors once helped me.

Today I head The Jewish Agency Students’ Center and coordinate the counselors’ training program. I also lead Taglit-Birthright groups to Israel and participate in St. Petersburg’s Moishe House Project.


I want to say a big thank you to The Jewish Agency and to Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County for all the opportunities that helped me to become what I am: a committed Jew and an active community member. I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to pass the Jewish message to the next generation of Jews – and help build our community.

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Hello, I am Zhanna, I am 24, and half a year ago I became the Director of Non-Formal Education Center at The Jewish Agency in St. Petersburg. This is a tremendous achievement for me.

I was 11 years old when I first came to The Jewish Agency summer camp. At that time, I knew little more about my Judaism than that my Jewish last name and that I had family in Israel.


Today, as a Jewish educator, I know that a Jewish camp is a gateway to the Jewish life for thousands of kids throughout the globe, and I was one of those thousands, who discovered at camp the treasures of Jewish heritage and culture.


Since then, I have been participating in summer camps every year. When I was 15, I became involved in year-round programs – theater, studio and seminars. On the way to finding my Jewish identity, I met amazing people who became my true friends. The friends I socialize with today are mostly people I met through The Jewish Agency. Some of them became professionals and leaders in the community, some moved to Israel, some created families and returned to Jewish programs, now as parents.

The turning point of my Jewish life, I think, was participation in the Jewish Agency’s “Moreshet” project. I overcame shyness and led a group event. I became a leader of a small project. I took full responsibility for myself for the first time. I became part of a community and felt responsible for its future. I learned about not just talking about positive change, but doing good deeds. This program taught me about who I am.


Today, I see my work in Jewish education as my way of giving back and justifying all the efforts and means invested in me through Jewish programs I was part of. I am convinced that in this world, good deeds do not just disappear, knowledge does not vanish away. Everything returns to its source.


I want to say a big thank you to the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County and to The Jewish Agency for the precious opportunity to change this world and make it better. I do my best to be worthy of it.

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My name is Marina Tzelniker. I am 19 years old and have been involved in the activities of The Jewish Agency since 2010.

I began as a volunteer in the community, a camper in The Jewish Agency’s summer camps, and I ultimately married my former fellow camper and participant in Jewish Agency programs!


I can say now that it was The Jewish Agency camp where I first tasted and experienced Jewish life, where I learned about my roots, and discovered my Jewishness. I started to feel connection to Jewish people and care about Israel. I made Jewish friends who became a very important part of my life.


In my Jewish community, I want to stay involved in everything that has become so precious to me, and further develop myself as a person to be able to give back to the community. I joined The Jewish Agency counselors’ training course, where I worked very hard to progress in my Jewish learning and acquire necessary skills. The most important thing I learned was how to work with children to make the Jewish heritage meaningful and interesting for them.

I believe that non-formal education is deeply rooted in Jewish culture. I am very happy that I have become a counselor and very excited about my future first experience as a counselor. I am very grateful to Federation and The Jewish Agency for being such a meaningful part of my life – helping me to realize myself as a Jew in my community.


Want to know more about the impact of our partnership in St. Petersburg?

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The Jewish Federation of
Palm Beach County

4601 Community Drive
West Palm Beach, FL 33417-2760
561-478-0700
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