Russian Jewish center honors Morton Povman

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The glittering, purple velvet robe, the traditional Jewish song blaring from the speakers, the balloons and bright stage lights all became too much for City Councilman Morton Povman (D-Forest Hills), who broke into a dance before 1,000 people Sunday night after receiving a community award.

"I felt a little bit like 'Fiddler on the Roof,'" Povman said afterward. "They started playing this music and it was a spontaneous dance."

The longest-serving member of the City Council and grandfather of four was honored by the Educational Center for Russian Jewry for his years of service to the heavily Russian communities of Forest Hills and Rego Park, which Povman has represented in the Council for 28 years.

The center, at 98-12 66th Ave. in Rego Park, celebrated the ninth anniversary of its founding and the start of Druzhba, the free, Russian language publication that is circulated in the metropolitan area, with an elaborate gala in the auditorium of Forest Hills High School.

The event Sunday, which was conducted almost entirely in Russian, featured a rabbi and musicians from the Russian homeland, as well as elected officials with homegrown roots in Forest Hills and Rego Park.

Founded in 1991, the Educational Center for Russian Jewry assists Russian immigrants, who have flocked to the area over the past 20 years in the tens of thousands, establish roots in a new country by helping them find homes, enroll children in schools, and find temples or synagogues to attend. The center also provides Hebrew language classes.

Druzhba, the Russian language biweekly magazine founded with the center, publishes weekly Torah portions, news about the former Soviet Union, Israel and the Middle East.

The magazine was started after the death of a longtime resident of the area, Natan Yakubov, whose daughter, Miriam Yakubov, is the magazine's current editor. When the community joined together to create the Educational Center for Russian Jewry and Druzhba in his memory, Miriam Yakubov said the vision for the center was born.

As part of this year's anniversary celebration, the Educational Center for Russian Jewry gave out free tickets to the show Sunday to anyone who registered to vote before the October deadline for the November elections, said Nahum Kaziev, the event coordinator and grandson of Natan Yakubov.

He said the center helped register about 850 new voters during its drive.

"We don't care who they vote for as long as they have a voice," Kaziev said.

Elected officials attending the celebration Sunday night included New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi, the former assemblyman from Forest Hills; Queens District Attorney Richard Brown; Assemblyman Michael Cohen (D-Forest Hills); and state Sen. Daniel Hevesi (D-Forest Hills).

The center decided to honor Povman, who is retiring from the Council next year because of term limits, for his dedication to assisting newcomers in the Rego Park and Forest Hills communities, Kaziev said.

The son of Yiddish speaking immigrants from two former Soviet cities - Kovno in Lithuania and Leningrad in Russia - Povman said after accepting the award that he felt a special affinity for helping new immigrants who lived in his district.

"I do it as a responsibility. I feel it's very important to facilitate them becoming Americans," Povman said. "I've done my job as a councilman.

Reach reporter Michelle Han by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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