By Brendan Browne
Bukhara-born David Ribacoff and Tashkent native Nahum Kaziev never could have imagined back in the former Soviet Union that they would be honored by the New York City Council for excellence in community service as American citizens.
“I was delighted, but I don’t think I was deserving it. I should share the award with everyone in the community ,” said the humble Kaziev, who is co-founder and chairman of The Educational Center for Russian Jewry. “We are very proud to be American Jews.”
The two community leaders from Forest Hills were scheduled to be honored by Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan), Council Members Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), Domenic Recchia (D-Brooklyn), and Michael Nelson (D-Brooklyn) at City Hall on Wednesday evening in a ceremony for new American citizens from the former Soviet Union.
“It’s a way to recognize all the good things new Americans from the former Soviet Union do for their adopted country,” said a spokesman from Katz’s office. Ribacoff and Kaziev “stood out for their civic affairs and giving back to the community,” he said.
Ribacoff and Kaziev have helped transform life for Russian immigrants in Queens. Thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union came to Queens in the 1970s, especially after the communist bloc crumbled, in search of a more stable life where they could practice their religion.
Many Russians arrived knowing almost nothing about the United States and speaking little or no English. Without the help of a well-organized Russian community organization or help center, they struggled to read maps, find housing or employment, and communicate with city agencies.
Ribacoff and Kaziev have played a major role in helping such immigrants by setting up organizations and funds that help them establish a decent life in Queens.
Ribacoff, after fleeing religious oppression in the former Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan and later in Egypt, arrived in New York in 1963 and has assisted Russian immigrants for more than 30 years. He founded the Nathan Yacoubov Educational Fund and serves on the board of the American Sephardi Federation, which works to preserve Jewish culture and history.
Kaziev, like Ribacoff, was born in Uzbekistan in central Asia and arrived in New York in 1986 as a teenager. He graduated from Queens College and at the age of 21 he started the Russian Yellow Pages, a phone book with a list of businesses with advertisements in Russian that he thought might be helpful to immigrants.
Kaziev went on to assist thousands of immigrants through his non-profit Educational Center for Russian Jewry. The organization helps Russian Jews find jobs, affordable housing, and information about city agencies — it even has a food distribution program. The center also offers classes in English, Hebrew, American history and culture and civics. Its youth department runs drug prevention programs and organizes sports activities and an orchestra.
“We saw the need to help the large influx of immigrants from the Soviet Union,” said Kaziev. “We helped them adjust to the community.”
Kaziev also publishes “Shalom,” a youth magazine in English, and “Druzhba,” which means friendship, and is the only free Jewish magazine in the country written in Russian.
One wall in Kaziev’s office at 98-12 66th Ave. in Rego Park is covered with pictures of him with politicians, showing his considerable influence in the community. He has shaken hands with the likes of Mayor Bloomberg, former Council Speaker Peter Vallone, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Reach reporter Brendan Browne by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 155.