Many Sheepshead Bay residents have run into children from the Tovushi Kavkazi Jewish Youth Center. Their dance troop, festooned in dazzling, colorful garmets, makes appearances at many of the events held throughout the community.
This month marks the four year anniversary of the Tovushi Kavkazi Jewish Youth Center, located on Avenue Z near East 23rd Street. Victor Abayev opened the center in 2011 because he saw a need for a place where young Kavkazi Jews could play and learn after school. Kavazi Jews, also known as mountain Jews, hail from the region of the Caucasus Mountains in Russia. The center has dance classes, chess classes, and a soccer team. They also have a day camp in the summer. While these classes bring the children together, the center has also become a gathering area for parents during the holidays and other events in the community.
“Tovushi means light in English,” said Angelika Pisakhova, manager of the Tovushi Center. “In my language, the Jewish language, it’s called awesome light, like something big.”
Abayev noticed the need for a youth center while working at the Gorsky Kavkazi Synagogue on Ocean Parkway. Abayev grew up in Russia and moved to Brooklyn 20 years ago. As a child, he and his friends played outside and took care of each other while respecting the curfew set by their parents. He says he wants the same thing for his children and grandchildren, but it’s not possible in New York City, so he created a center to replicate that open space of his childhood.
“It’s very important to take the children from the street,” he said “This is number one. Most of the parents do not have time to see what the children are doing.”
His son Zimro Abayev, age 23, helps him with running the center while also working in a nearby business. Zimro recently created an anti-drug program at the center to combat the issues that he saw while growing up in Sheepshead Bay. He said his close friends suffered from drug addiction, and he wanted to find a way to prevent this from continuing to happen in his community. He held his first meeting in November and three police officers from the 61st Precinct spoke to a group of approximately 40 people. The purpose of the program is to educate parents and young children on the dangers of drugs before the children reach high school.
“Most drug programs are about kids but this is both,” he said. “This is more for adults to be aware that there’s a problem.”
Zimro and Victor have big plans for the center in years to come. They hope to expand so they can have more space for classes. Zimro wants to integrate his age group into the center by having mixers and parties for single people.
“A big thing in the Jewish community is to find another half,” he said.
The children who attend the popular dance classes usually come three days a week. They make friends from different neighborhoods and different schools, but they all share the same background. It’s a way for them to connect with new friends and their religion. Victor says the location in Sheepshead Bay was an obvious choice.
“Sheepshead Bay is our future, that’s why we’re here,” said Victor.