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Our group of adventure-seeking travelers boarded the bus early Sunday morning anticipating a day full of experiences. On our first stop we picked up our tour guide and a bunch of "locals" and off we went for a historical tour of Jewish Brooklyn. The trip was the brainchild of Susan Kranberg, Engage Brooklyn community organizer, and Rabbi Brian Fink, director of Engage.

What a fabulous day it was as we cruised through neighborhoods such as Boro Park, Beverly Square, Clinton Hill, Midwood, and the not to be missed Brighton Beach. Brooklyn was once a city of its own, established under the rule of Peter Stuyvesant, until it was finally annexed officially to New York City in the late 1800s. Our knowledgeable guide, Ron Schweiger, Brooklyn borough historian, was a fountain of knowledge and interesting facts about the evolution of the borough. He pointed out that as far back as the days of Peter Stuyvesant, Jews were allowed to live in the borough because their skills were considered essential to developing the villages. To this day, Brooklyn has the largest Jewish population in the world outside of Israel.

A lunch stop at Essen New York Deli allowed everybody to stock up on mounds of pickles, coleslaw, and other deli delights before moving on to the highlight of the tour, a visit to the Shorefront Y in Brighton Beach, where we were able to listen to the struggles and success stories of two Russian émigrés. They shared their thankfulness for the opportunity to live in this country and the support of the Jewish community. They recounted how difficult the transition has been from living in a Communist country to living in the United States. As one of the speakers put it, the  émigrés “are still slaves inside,” and need help with support for their continuing needs.

As I walked out the door for a short stroll in the sunshine along the beach, I reflected on what I heard and made a personal commitment to participate more in Engage projects in support of the Russian Jewish community in Brooklyn. Want to find out how you can become more actively involved in this and other Engage projects? Please join us at the upcoming Engage Community Brunch on June 28th, at which many of our partner organizations will be available to share volunteer opportunities. Click here to register or contact Rabbi Brian Fink at bfink@jccmanhattan.org or 646.505.4408.