At the end of each summer, the campgrounds in the upstate mountains fall silent as children prepare for school. But for one such site, there was a last hurrah when young adults spent a weekend in nature to build connections and strengthen ties. A couple of weeks ago, Manashe Khaimov organized a Shabbaton for Mizrachi and Sefardi students and young professionals to network and develop leadership skills.

“There were 95 people at our inaugural national SAMI conference,” Khaimov said. “We had several speakers who were entrepreneurs and philanthropists.” The acronym of his new organization stands for Sephardic American Mizrahi Initiative, a program for college students and recent graduates focusing on entrepreneurship and communal activism.

“There is a very active Bukharian community in San Diego. The SAMI program will develop leaders and entrepreneurs among its younger members,” said Sara Yusupov, who attended the Shabbaton and was among the 20 percent of participants who live outside of New York.

Rozeeta Mavashev, a member of SAMI’s advisory board, also attended the Shabbaton and said that it reflects her work at Brooklyn College Hillel, where she is the director of Jewish student life.

“We’ve been working on college campuses for years, and many organizations try to engage every student but they’re not always culturally sensitive to every background. Mizrachi and Sefardi students seek professional development over Jewish exploration,” she said. In her experience, many of her fellow Bukharian Jews focus their time on becoming doctors or pharmacists, without giving much thought toward involvement in Jewish organizations.

“We give them both and equip these students with leadership. We seek to diversify the existing Jewish organizations. They should see themselves as Jews, not only as doctors but to be involved in the community. Being an active Jewish professional is an attainable option.”

Mavashev estimates the Jewish student body at Brooklyn College as 30 to 35 percent non-Ashkenazi, and the Hillel organized events that included their way of davening, singing, storytelling, and cuisine. The SAMI Shabbaton had the same sense of Jewish diversity. “Kiddush was delivered in the Syrian style, the z’mirot were Bukharian. It was a rich experience. Half of the Havdalah was Bukharian and half was Ashkenazi,” she said.

Prior to founding SAMI, Khaimov worked at Queens College Hillel, where he estimates that a quarter of Jewish students are Bukharian. An experienced community organizer with a degree in social work, Khaimov’s career in the Bukharian Jewish community goes back for nearly a decade with projects such as the Bukharian Teen Lounge, the Bukharian Jewish Union, heritage tours for young Jews to Uzbekistan, tours of the Queens Bukharian community for American participants, and lectures about Bukharian Jews at international Limmud conferences. Although he resides in Brooklyn, his deep involvement in Jewish causes in Queens merited him a seat on the Queens Jewish Community Council.

At the Shabbaton, Khaimov introduced Jonathan and Dina Leader, who spoke of their involvement in organizations that engaged with Russian Jews. An example of an immigrant who became active in an established Jewish organization is Ilya Bratman, who also spoke at the SAMI Shabbaton. After graduating from university, he served in the military, taught at Sinai Academy, a school for children from unaffiliated families, organized Jewish programs at the Kings Bay Y, and presently serves as the director of Baruch College Hillel.

Following the Shabbaton, participants teamed up in cohorts to brainstorm ideas. “The cohort in Queens includes Queens College, Queensborough Community College, Touro, and St. John’s University, comprising 25 students. There will be cohorts in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Florida, and a virtual cohort for students across the United States,” Khaimov said. “Once they finish the cohorts, they can apply for mini-grants for programs on their college campuses and in their communities.”

 By Sergey Kadinsky