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Harvard University Welcomes JCHE Residents

Posted: December 8, 2017

On a brisk December evening, a group of Russian JCHE residents took the JCHE van across the river to Harvard University.

When they entered Harvard’s Kresge Foundation Room—its grandiose ambiance punctuated by a giant gray stone fireplace—they were greeted by a group of Harvard students, seated in blue velvet chairs behind an oval mahogany table.  

The residents had come to see presentations by Russian-speaking students enrolled in a course called, “The Other Russia: Twenty-First Century Films, Fictions, States of Mind”, a course that aims to understand the complexities and nuances of contemporary Russian culture through the prism of its art, music, and literature.

To glean insight into Russian culture, students were asked to create visual, verbal, and video portraits of Soviet immigrants living in the Boston area. And over the course of the fall semester, our residents welcomed students into their lives, sharing with them memories of life in their former homeland, as well as photographs, diaries, their favorite symphonies and literature, and even residents’ original poetry.

Through these interactions, students captured the fundamental realities of life for Soviet immigrants—from the unspeakable horrors of World War II and living under a totalitarian regime, to the transformative journey of leaving one’s homeland for the hope of a better life.  

By the final presentation, it was obvious that students had built a special bond with our residents. “Thank you for allowing me to share and relive so many memories—both melancholy and joyful. You’re wonderful,” JCHE resident Sonya expressed her heartfelt gratitude to the Harvard student with whom she built a connection through their mutual love of the Russian composer Tchaikovsky.

This unique partnership between Harvard and JCHE was forged through our “Chaynaya Vecherinka” (Russian for “afternoon tea”) program, which connects college students studying Russian culture and language with JCHE’s Russian residents. Part of our volunteer program, “Chaynaya Vecherinka” is possible thanks to a generous grant by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies Young Adult initiative.

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