Museum to celebrate Russian immigrants

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A new museum aims to show that Russian immigrants are as American as the Motherland and apple pie.

A theater in Brighton Beach is building a Russian heritage museum to highlight contributions immigrants from Russia and the former Soviet Union have made to the United States. Organizers want to shape a more positive opinion of Russians, who sometimes get a bad rap because of how they are portrayed in the media, according to one of the museum’s founders.

“We want to change the way many people in Brooklyn look at Russian immigration,” said Sanna Ezri, director of the Master Theater — formerly the Millennium Theater.

The museum will trace the Russian ancestry of Americans who have made a significant contribution to this nation’s culture or history — people like Steven Spielberg, whose ancestors emigrated from the Ukraine, and Leonardo Dicaprio, whose Italian surname belies his maternal grandmother’s Russian origins, Ezri said.

Other subjects include controversial composer Igor Stravinsky, “I Dream of Jeannie” creator Sidney Sheldon, and designer Ralph Lauren.

“They are the people who made the history of the United States,” said Rika Katsov, the museum’s director.

An historian working with the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan is spearheading the research, but genealogists from across the globe are contributing, Katsov said.

Sifting through immigration data and family trees has produced some surprises, she said.

“Who could have thought that the founder of the famous American footwear brand Timberland was an immigrant from Russia, or that the creator of the legendary American muscle car Chevy Corvette is the son of Russian expats?” Katsov said.

In addition to biographical information about famous Americans with Russian roots, the museum will trace emigration from the Motherland around the world.

Construction is expected to begin in the fall, Katsov said.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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