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Russian Speaking Program Celebrates “Chai” Milestone

Russian Speaking program participants watch celebratory slideshow via Zoom in honor of the program's 18th Anniversary

Almost two decades ago, Northeast Philadelphia’s Russian-speaking community was growing rapidly, especially its senior population. Without a comfortable understanding of the English language, many were looking to connect with others in a safe environment with the ability to speak Russian freely. KleinLife’s Russian Speaking program was established as the perfect solution.

This month, the program celebrated its 18th anniversary. This anniversary is extremely special as 18 translates to “life” in Jewish numerology, also known as “chai”. Judaism emphasizes the importance of life and the hope that supports it. As a result, 18 represents good luck.

In years past, the affairs were lavish with catered food, special décor, and live music that had all of their 200 attendees on their feet. Although they were unable to celebrate their 17th anniversary due to the pandemic, its staff wanted to ensure that this year could be celebrated even if it wasn’t in person.

“The celebrations we host are always lively,” said Marina Zhitnitskaya, KleinLife: Russian Speaking’s program coordinator, “and we wanted to be together somehow and share our great memories.” They had a celebration with 45 participants, some of whom have been with the program since it opened in 2003. Program participants, Mark and Larisa, shared a slideshow accompanied by festive music showcasing photos and videos of past celebrations and the joy that the program has brought to the lives of so many people. Some of the content from the slideshow included Citizenship graduations, Women’s and Men’s Day performances, ESL classes, and Kabbalat Shabbat services. Over its lifetime, KleinLife’s Russian Speaking program has brought happiness to hundreds of participants.

“Everything was new and unknown when I came here in 1991,” said Galina, a Russian Speaking program participant. “In 2003, our Philadelphia Corporation for Aging case manager told us about this new program (at KleinLife). I went there (with my husband) and it was truly good for us. At first, it was 15 people, and we all got to know each other and danced together, and were happy. My husband and I were so happy that we got into this group, and the group kept growing and growing and growing. I pray to God that it only keeps growing.”

The Russian Speaking program certainly has “chai” and will continue its positive impact on the Russian community for many years to come.

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