KleinLife’s Victoria Faykin Reflects on Journey to the United States

Victoria Faykin (Courtesy of Victoria Faykin)

Since immigrating to the United States in 1997, Victoria Faykin has built a reputation for helping immigrants and refugees like herself.

In the 2010s, the vice president of KleinLife in Northeast Philadelphia established a Sunday school program for Jewish kids from the former Soviet Union. It grew from 30 children to more than 70 in three years, according to a 2018 Jewish Exponent article. Then in 2022, Faykin started a free summer camp for refugees from the war in Ukraine. By the fall, it transformed into an after-school and job training assistance program for these families that had to leave their soldier patriarchs behind.

We know from past Exponent stories on her efforts that Faykin is a Russian immigrant. We are also aware that she faced the cultural and institutional antisemitism that so many Jewish children tackled in the former Soviet Union. But what we have not yet explored is her journey, and why it reminds her to appreciate her life in America.

The Story

Faykin, 57, has told the story in the pages of the Exponent before. She did not know she was Jewish for the first six years of her life. But then on a vacation with her father at an all-inclusive resort, she was outside playing with the other children. Two women approached her and asked if she was the daughter of the man in room 10. Faykin said “yes,” and the women proceeded to use a word that was a slur toward Jews. Everyone around the young girl laughed; she ran back to her father in the room and started crying.

He told his daughter yes, they were Jews, and no, that was not a bad thing.

“‘Yes, I am Jewish; you’re Jewish; your brother is Jewish; your mom is Jewish.’ I cried and told him, ‘I don’t want to be Jewish,’” Faykin recalled. He told me, ‘It’s not your choice. You were born Jewish, and you will die Jewish.’”

But then he apprised her of all the historical figures who had been born Jewish and who had died Jewish.

“You know (Albert) Einstein? He was Jewish. You know (Karl) Marx? He was Jewish. You know (Marc) Chagall? He was Jewish,” Faykin said. “He told me I needed to be the best in the class. ‘It’s a people of knowledge. It’s a people of the book. You need to be proud. And they’re just jealous.’”

Later, it dawned on the young girl that she wanted to immigrate to the United States. The desire did not come from her father. He never spoke about the U.S., according to Faykin. But when she met her husband as a young woman, she informed him that if he wanted to marry her, “we will go to the United States.”

The Immigration Process

Victoria Faykin has worked at KleinLife since 1999. (Courtesy of Victoria Faykin)

When you apply for immigration status, you get in a line. So in January 1987, that was what Faykin and her husband did. Since they had no relatives in the U.S., they would probably have to wait even longer, she recalled. But she was willing to wait as long as she needed.

They remained in line through the early and mid-1990s. In the meantime, the couple had a daughter, Yana, and then another, Rita. They had no way to get information about the United States, so they just waited. Finally, in 1996, they were told to come to Moscow for an interview. In the end, they got in, and the only tasks left were paperwork and health assessments. In 1997, they arrived in Philadelphia. Yana was 10 and Rita two. No one in the family knew English.

“Maybe when you’re young, maybe when it’s your dream and you want a better life … you just do it,” Faykin said.

The Early Days

The Jewish Family Service organization helped immigrants upon arrival to the country. For a JFS meeting, Faykin walked into KleinLife for the first time. The immigrants were offered a free membership and, as Faykin wandered the halls, she told her husband she wanted to work at the community center.

First, she volunteered for a year and a half. Then she was offered a job. She started on Sept. 1, 1999. Today, Faykin lives in Huntington Valley and serves as KleinLife’s second-highest-ranking official under President and CEO Andre Krug. Her older daughter, now 35, just got promoted by a pharmaceutical company. Her younger daughter, now 27, went to Temple University on a full scholarship.

“They’re happy. They don’t ask me about help. The oldest says, ‘Momma, I will buy you this,’” Faykin said. ■


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