Nikolai Borodulin, 61, Yiddish maven and star educator


Nikolai Borodulin is the master teacher and director of Yiddish programming at the Workers Circle who has been teaching Yiddish since 1988. He was selected as one of the New York Jewish Week’s 36 to Watch (formerly 36 Under 36). This distinction honors leaders, entrepreneurs and changemakers who are making a difference in New York’s Jewish community. Since 1993, Borodulin has been developing curricula and leading classes for Workers Circle, which during the pandemic saw explosive growth for online Yiddish instruction. Borodulin lives on Staten Island.

For the full list of this year’s “36ers,” click here.

New York Jewish Week: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Borodulin: I was born in Birobidzhan, the capital city of the Jewish Autonomous Region in the Russian Federation. I studied at a teacher’s college (Khabarovsk) and got a bachelor’s degree in teaching English and German. In 1989, I organized the Yiddish-English department at Birobidzhan Teachers’ College and then went on to study at Columbia University in 1992 to 1993 where I received a master’s degree in Yiddish. I’ve been teaching Yiddish in NYC and online since 1993. In 2018 I was the recipient of Adrienne Cooper Dreaming in Yiddish award.

What’s a fun/surprising fact about you?

I started to learn Yiddish when I was 27 years old.

Was there a formative Jewish experience that influenced your life path?

When I was 28 I had the chutzpah to teach Yiddish to both kids and adults, and I met an acquaintance of mine who wished me a happy holiday. I was looking a him as if he was from another world because it was still a long time before the big holiday (October Revolution). When I asked what holiday, he asked me in return if I knew that it was Rosh Hashanah. When I asked what was Rosh Hashanah he became speechless. This encounter stimulated me to learn about my roots, and I can’t stop it.

Do you have a favorite inspiring quote?

“Beser a yid on a bord eyder a bord on a yid”: It’s better to be a Jew without a beard than a beard without a Jew.

What is your favorite place to eat Jewish food in New York?

Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse.

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