It may not have resembled a kitchen gathering—the inspired prototype for Mitbachon Retreat for Russian Jewish Young Adults—but the lively crowding of the participants at the Sheraton’s Four Points in San Rafael on the second weekend in February embodied the essence of a raucous family reunion. Half of the eighty-six “Mitbachontzi” flew in from New York while the others drove from all over the SF Bay Area. But regardless of distance traveled, all came a long way to stand at the junction of Russian-, American-, Israeli-Jewish worlds. Most of them were imports of the post-Soviet 90’s immigration and are now fine exhibits of the “American Dream” at work. Together they sacrificed vacation days and endured a selection process for this one of a kind gathering.
So what’s the draw?
Over its four incarnations, Mitbachon has built a genuine following. Its formula is simple: engaging workshops, world-class speakers, communal activities, festive Shabbat and always great music, mostly courtesy of its guitar-toting participants. Each of the four retreats was uniquely themed. This year’s focus invoked the subject of Jewish Peoplehood, visually emblemized by the four Musketeers—the Jewish kind.
The idea of Jewish Musketeers came to the Mitbachon’s creators, Alexandra (Sasha) Belinski, JAFI Emissary for FSU émigrés community in the SF Bay Area, and Anna Vainer, JAFI emissary for FSU émigrés community in New York, who spent their emissary terms inventing ways to engage the elusive demographic of young Russian Jews. Aiming to render Jewish Peoplehood as subject both relevant and tangible, they reached for a place of deep cultural resonance. Duma’s familiar motto, “All for One and One for All” thrust an emotional gateway to a much more cryptic notion of communal Judaism.
Helping traverse this dense subject further were workshops such as David Shneer’s “American Jewish Peoplehood” hevruta-style discourse provoking personal reflections relating to Jewish people and Jewish communities. Through communal brainstorming, participants pondered the slick dimensions of American Judaism and Russian Jewishness, the joys of collective identify and the fetters of this covenant. Also dipping into subjects of Jewish journeys was Maya Bernstein and Ellie Schainker’s seminar, “Immigrant Jews and the Burden of Memory,” looking at the post-WWII revival of Jewish culture in Germany. Over three days, tough questions surfaced time and again about our common heritage and common fate: what binds us—if anything—as people, as a nation, as a community?
Beyond the classroom, Mitbachon is about building relationships. And true to its tradition, evenings were full of games, improv theater, music, laughter and of course Russian-style conversations running long into the night. The cumulative effect is magical and the question on everyone’s lips is when is the next Mitbachon?
Mitbachon Retreat is made possible by the generous support of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, UJA Federation of New York, COJECO and Genesis Philanthropy Group.