Providing A Voice

Dr. Rafael Chikvashvili: “Because I spoke English, [Soviet immigrants] would come to me and ask for my help.” (Photo provided)

Dr. Rafael Chikvashvili: “Because I spoke
English, [Soviet immigrants] would come to me and ask for my help.” (Photo provided)

Dr. Rafael Chikvashvili was awarded a Governor’s Citation last month for his efforts on behalf of former Soviet Jews. The citation was presented at the Conference on Social Integration of Immigrants in Maryland, held
in Annapolis.

In announcing the citation, Barbara Gradet, executive director of Jewish Community Services, called Dr. Chikvashvili “a strong and effective advocate for new Americans” who has been at the “forefront of championing the needs of immigrants in the Baltimore Jewish community.”

Dr. Chikvashvili is well-known in the local Jewish community for his efforts on behalf of immigrants. He is one himself, having arrived in 1976 from the Republic of Georgia to Baltimore, where he had family.

Dr. Chikvashvili, who had been a mathematics professor at Tbilisi State University, was 27 at the time, married with one child, and a former “refusenik.” He now lives in Pikesville, worships at Beth Tfiloh Congregation, and is founder and president of Alpha Diagnostic Services and Alpha Clinical Laboratories, which provide diagnostic tests, primarily for the elderly.

A list of Dr. Chikvashvili’s activities runs from president and board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to board member of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. He founded and was president of the Jewish Union of Russian Immigrants, part of the Baltimore Jewish Council.

“Because I spoke English, [Soviet immigrants] would come to me and ask for my help” in their dealings with, for example, the city or state bureaucracy,” he said. “I understood that if you have an organization, rather than being an individual, you have a voice.”

Dr. Chikvashvili estimates that there were perhaps 150 Soviet Jewish immigrants when he came to Baltimore. Now, he has heard a figure of 36,000 to 38,000 Russian speakers in metropolitan Baltimore, not all of whom are Jewish.

“They’re very successful,” he said of the Soviet Jews here, “not only in business and professionally, but religious, too. Every Russian Jew has a bar or bat mitzvah for their children.”

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