Olga Roginkin of Edgewater came to the United States from St. Petersburg in 1989. A graduate of the Polytechnic University in St. Petersburg, Ms. Roginkin earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering there. “When my family came to the United States over 30 years ago, my professional experience included engineering, programming, business analysis, and project management,” she said.
Her specialized project management skills taught her to organize large teams efficiently and effectively, attending to both large-scale issues and minute details. “I couldn’t have imagined my experience working for large corporations on multimillion-dollar projects would lead to my starting a nonprofit,” she said. “And it wouldn’t have, if not for what happened in Israel on October 7, 2023.”
But the atrocities that Hamas terrorists inflicted on innocent Israelis and other victims affected her life profoundly. “I cannot imagine continuing to be anything other than an advocate for Israel,” she said.
Ms. Roginkin lives in a large Russian-speaking community in Edgewater. “Just after the October 7 massacre, I considered ways in which I might organize charitable community events to support Israeli causes,” she said.
So she and her sister, Victoria Tentler-Krylov, who moved with her family from Newton, Massachusetts, to Closter in 2022, founded Artists for Israel.
“Victoria is an architect, editorial illustrator, children’s book author and illustrator,” Ms. Roginkin said. “We have combined our skills to concentrate on various types of fundraising events, art shows, concerts, auctions, workshops, and master classes in watercolor, jewelry making, and flower arrangement to raise necessary funds to support Israel.”
Artists for Israel was born several days after October 7. “My main driver was my passion for Israel and Jewish culture, and my intolerance of antisemitism,” Ms. Roginkin said. Having come from a country where antisemitism was — and is — a way of life, I am very sensitive to it in any stage or form. I am appalled at the rise in antisemitism rearing its head in this country.”
Ms. Roginkin, who is married and has two children and one grandchild, has always hoped that her children would never know the antisemitism from which her family escaped.
“Victoria and I co-founded Artists for Israel to support our brothers and sisters in Israel and to ensure our future as Jewish people is bright,” Ms. Roginkin said. The group hopes to raise awareness and funds to support well-researched, specific, and localized Israeli charities.
The co-founders’ first effort, planned just two weeks after the Hamas massacre, was to organize an art exhibition. “In just three weeks it came together,” Ms. Roginkin said. “It was an incredible enterprise. We located space that was generously donated by a private owner in a building on Railroad Avenue in Tenafly. The owner was happy to help since she was awaiting renovation crews.”
Once the space was secured, the sisters went to work coordinating the exhibit. “Our posters and social media campaign brought in local volunteers who donated their time to clean the space, process transactions, and hang the artwork brought in by artists from New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and even Israel,” Ms. Roginkin said.
“My sister and I weren’t concerned with the expenses we incurred to put the event together,” she continued. “Our goal was to offer something meaningful, with the intent to support Israel.” The team created guidelines for the type of work the artists could contribute, ensuring that it met high professional standards. “It was up to the individual artist to determine what percentage of the monies earned from sales would be donated,” she said; artists were asked to include that information for each piece.
The two-day show, which included work from 49 artists, drew more than 500 visitors. “The event itself earned $50,000,” Ms. Roginkin said. “We defined three charities that were vital to the life of Israel at that point; $30,000 was donated to American Friends of Magen David Adom (www.afmda.org,) Brothers and Sisters for Israel (www.brothersandsistersforisrael.org,) and Israel Emergency Fund at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades.”
“It was a grassroots effort with organic reach,” she continued. “Nothing was collected at the door. We wanted to make the exhibit as accessible as possible.”
Cantor Maria Dubinsky of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge, who is from Moscow, was trained as a classical performer and opera singer. “While I am continually involved in cantorial and music events throughout the area, I’d been thinking about organizing a fundraising concert since October 7, 2023, when thousands of innocent Israelis were massacred and kidnapped by Hamas,” she said. Artists for Israel inspired her to create a similar program for musicians.
“In conjunction with Artists for Israel, I reached out to my colleagues in the cantorial and music community to offer a high-quality program to the North Jersey Jewish community,” she said.
Cantor Dubinsky was eager to talk to Ms. Roginkin after Artists for Israel’s success. “In two days, they’d raised upwards of $30,000,” she said. “The co-founders had so effectively managed this event — they were like a well-oiled machine. I knew they were people we needed to collaborate with.”
She and Avodat Shalom’s Rabbi Jim Stoloff are planning an evening of music, called “My Heart is in the East,” to raise funds for Israel. The concert, set for January 27 at 7 p.m., will feature more than 10 cantors from synagogues in Bergen and Essex counties, as well as other talented musicians from northern New Jersey and Manhattan. The program will include Israeli and Yiddish theater music, traditional chazanut, and more. “We will also be selling dog tags with a message of hope for the hostages,” Cantor Dubinsky said. “While all of the performers are generously contributing their time and expertise, we are requesting a suggested donation of $36,” which includes hors d’oeuvres.
Ms. Roginkin is excited about the evening. “I look forward to working alongside talented Jewish clergy and musicians to bring inspiration and heart to the Jewish community,” she said. “We share a common goal of providing much-needed support to Israel.”
Proceeds from the concert will support Friends of the IDF Emergency Campaign (www.fidf.org,); R4TL (www.run4lives.org), which works to spread awareness for the release of Israeli hostages, and Yad Sarah (www.friendsofyadsarah.org.), a volunteer organization in Israel that provides medical equipment and help with staffing rehabilitation centers for wounded soldiers and providing hotels for displaced families.
“Organizing an event like this is a vehicle to support Israel,” Ms. Roginkin said. “We are making a difference by building community.”
“It is imperative that we continue to remind people of the ongoing crisis in Israel, Cantor Dubinsky said. “Attending the concert in person is an opportunity to energize and elevate the morale of those of us who feel powerless about what to do.”
Cantor Dubinsky has found that the Russian-speaking communities in northern New Jersey don’t always connect with the English-speaking communities. “After October 7, I’ve seen all of the different Jewish communities come together,” she said. “They’re taking part in interdenominational events. There is unity among the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox communities in their support of Israel. It’s been a very powerful phenomenon.”
To register for the Artists for Israel and Temple Avodat Shalom collaborative evening, go to Avodat Shalom’s website, www.avodatshalom.net.