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Interview for



Interviewed By:

Katherine Clifton

Date Interviewed:

Audio Recording of Interview
00:00 / 1:05:51

Dima describes his refugee experience, leaving Russia for the United States with his husband due to persecution of the LGBT community at home. He speaks highly of his new LGBT-affirming synagogue in New York in comparison to the discrimination he felt in Russia as a both a Jew and a gay man, a congregation he calls his “chosen family.”

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Additional Notes

Narrator: Dima

Date: 07/11/19

Location: NYC, NY

Summary: Dima describes his refugee experience, leaving Russia for the United States with his husband due to persecution of the LGBT community at home. He speaks highly of his new LGBT-affirming synagogue in New York in comparison to the discrimination he felt in Russia as a both a Jew and a gay man, a congregation he calls his “chosen family.”

Topics: religion, synagogue, lgbt, russia, culinary center, adjustment to different perceptions of religion, affinity groups, belonging, acclimation.


Section 1: (00:00- 8:57)

  • Escape to the US: For his safety and his husband’s safety they had to flee to the US from Russia due to russian propaganda law against the LGBT community. When they arrived in the US they found the international center of the cathlic church which is where they found work.

  • Commercial Culinary training: He began commercial culinary training, and although he was not sure if it was for him, he believed that it was probably a great opportunity. He describes the process of learning everything relating to the kitchen, starting with the very basics. He believes the training was really helpful in preparing him to work anywhere.

  • Persecution: How everyone can be persecuted abroad and it does not depend on religion. And there are many different ways to be made to feel uncomfortable in their country.

  • Being Jewish in the USSR: He doesn’t present himself as a very religious person. He never went to synagogue before leaving Russia. But because of his distance from the religion growing up is more skeptical in some ways so he does not accept all cultural aspects of the religion.

Section 2: (8:57 - 15:10)

  • Most important aspects of faith: His lack of awareness of lgbt friendly synagogues. Because of this he found a new community that was centered around being jewish and lgbt friendly. He describes his synagogue (CBST) as his chosen family.

  • Lack of acceptance of difference: He describes Russian society as very angry and unaccepting. And there is no acceptance of people of difference religions and sexual orientations. He especially describes that Russia would be an actively uncomfortable place for those that appear different.

Section 3: (15:10 - 25:44)

  • Russian government and religion: He describes Russian society as filled with propaganda which is used to control how the overall society pieces those that are different. He describes how the government wishes to make everyone obey. He also describes the lack of spirituality in Russia and how because of this people are really wishing to have more of a sense of spirituality in their lives.

  • Engagement with CBST: Dima describes how he feels he does not have as much time as he would like to engage with the synagogue because he lives far away and has a lot of work. But he does enjoy the community. He feels he can tell he is in the right place when he is in CBST and gets that feeling of connection and community.

  • Connection with different refugee societies: Dima discusses how he enjoys the ability to connect with different refugee societies especially with the Muslim center. He found it very pleasantly surprising that despite all that is said about the Israeli palestine conflict he has had the ability to connect with many different people.

  • Acceptance of difference in US: Perceived complete acceptance of difference and even weirdness of people in the US. Completely changing his perspective on self expression and his relationship to judgment of other people. Dima also describes how he believes the US is such an amazing place for its ability to foster such communities of acceptance and connection.

Section 4: (25:44 - 42:17)

  • Difference: Through different conversation groups Dima became exposed to lots of different perspectives, different sexual orientation, religious affiliations, and different ages he got to learn a lot about different perspecitves and belief.s Dima discussed having a gay friend who also supported Trump and attempting to reconicle those differences in beleifs which also comes along with having such a space of connection.

  • Interfaith connection: Dima mentioned attempting to take part in many interfaith community meetings but having trouble fitting into his schedule.

  • Israel: Dima really wants to learn Hebrew. He visited Israel twice just for tourism but appreciated the ability to see more of what he believes. He hopes to learn more about his religion so as to better practice his faith.

Section 5: (42:17-55:57)

  • Work: Connecting to people with very different experiences than him at work and learning about different cultures and different ways of cooking.

  • Food: Connecting to people through his job cooking. His experience with the project Bright table, which brought together different people from different cultures and backgrounds.

  • Catholic Church: Attending a charity class for refugees to learn english. Discusses his experience with the volunteers (who were primarily catholic) and his ability to connect with them despite their differences in faith. He refers to some of the volunteers as his good friends and the importance of acceptance between them. He also discusses the lack of focus on religion in the catholic organization even despite its catholic origins.

  • Conversation: He discusses the ability to simply talk, even without perfect English grammar. It helped improve his English and his ability to connect with people.

Section 6: (55:57-

  • Belief: He describes how belief originally stems from what you are exposed to and what your parents and the surrounding society believe. However it was also important to be skeptical and to accept differences in belief.

  • Reconciliation: For him there is a need to find a balance between different expectations of religions. Dima uses the example of eating shellfish despite being Jewish as an example of this reconciliation of his belief. He also describes a form of reconciliation beyond his consciousness, where there is simply a faith in God beyond comprehension or control.

  • Home: His idea of home is that it follows him everywhere. And that in trying to make the world a better place you will have home with you wherever you are.

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