Dimitry Ekshtut

Harlem, NYC

Why are you a Jewish educator?

I am a Jewish educator because I believe deeply in lowering the barriers of entry and creating more avenues to access to our shared Jewish heritage. My approach to Jewish education focuses on equipping individuals to make informed decisions about their Jewish practice from a place of growing knowledge and competency, empowering them to take their spiritual growth into their own hands.

When have you sojourned?

I was born in the Former Soviet Union and moved to America at the age of five. This country afforded me the opportunity as a young adult to go on yet another journey of reconciling the disparate strands of my identity (immigrant, Russian, Jewish, American) into a cohesive whole.

What is your own community like?

I have lived in Harlem since 2009 and am deeply invested in the project of cultivating Jewish life in this neighborhood. We do that by recognizing that people have both particularistic and pluralistic needs, and that a community built with just one of these in mind will invariably leave something or someone out. To that end, we’ve worked over the past 6 years to create organization containers to meet both varieties of needs – Based in Harlem (simply, our home) for the pluralistic, and Kehillat Harlem (a progressive orthodox prayer community) for the particularistic.

What does becoming a Jew mean to you?

Becoming a Jew means recognizing the responsibility inherent in the freedom to choose. All Jews should be “Jews by choice”, in the sense that we all have to make a proactive effort to positively affirm our Jewish identities and identify structures within the Jewish tradition that support our individual journeys of spiritual self-actualization. At the same time, Judaism is a team sport, not a solo activity, and so becoming a Jew also means embracing – and being embraced by – community.

Three people you’d like to invite to Shabbat lunch, and what you’d like to talk about together.

I would invite historian Henry Abramson, jazz guitar legend Kenny Burrell, and Jewish musician and songleader Joey Weisenberg. I’d like to ask them their thoughts on how our past makes a claim on our present. Plus we could sing some mean zemirot at the end.