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From Wedding Photographer to Funeral Director: Building Bridges to the Russian-Jewish Community

He was just two years old in the early 1990’s when his family immigrated from Kyrgyzstan to New York.
Yevgeniy “Eugene” Duvidzon doesn’t remember much from those early days. That is, other than the time right about then when he ripped a pepper from a vine, chomped on it as astonished relatives watched, and ignited a lifelong taste for things hot and spicy.
In the realm of formative experiences, that’s relatively minor, but it fits. In the 30 years since, Eugene Duvidzon has cut a path framed by family and community, and with empathy and memory as strong undercurrents.
Sitting in his office at Plaza Jewish Community Chapel (PJCC) in Manhattan, where he began work as a funeral director a year ago, he’s aware of how all that — plus a healthy dose of aspiration — got him to this particular place and the positive impact he can make for the Russian Jewish community.
“We have cultural commonalities that very naturally break down walls during a very vulnerable time,” he said of his interactions guiding Russian Jewish families mourning a loved one. “There is nuanced sensitivity that can’t be measured, but it is there and present and real.”
PJCC is one of just a few non-profit Jewish funeral homes in the country. As such, part of its mission is a purposeful outreach with services and education to all realms of the Jewish community. And that includes the sizable population of Russian Jews throughout New York City and surrounding areas.
“The Jewish community in the metropolitan area is a dynamic mosaic of peoples, and the Russian community is a major part of it,” said Stephanie Garry, Executive Vice President of Communal Partnerships at PJCC. “Community is in our name for good reason.”
Besides bringing Duvidzon onto its staff as funeral director, PJCC recently established a Russian language version of its website at
For Duvidzon, becoming a funeral director was not always the goal. Formerly a wedding photographer working mainly in the Russian and Syrian Jewish communities, he described a gradual search for more meaning in his work, and more opportunity to give of himself.
An acquaintance ran a funeral home on Staten Island, and Duvidzon — open to exploring options — shadowed him for a few weeks and made some discoveries.
“I saw that this was a space where I had potential to help people on a deeper level,” he said. “I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly that was, but I knew it was there.”
Soon after, he was enrolled at the American Academy of McAllister Institute of Funeral Service in New York to get his degree in the field, before beginning his one-year residency of practice and becoming a licensed funeral director. In fact, he met his wife at the Academy and they now share professions.
It was during his residency year that Duvidzon found himself in a home in Brighton Beach after the death of an elderly Russian Jewish woman. While there, he spotted a family portrait and recognized it as one that he had shot when he was a wedding photographer. The woman who had passed away was the grandmother of the bride.
That moment he made that connection was an epiphany of sorts for Duvidzon.
“The reality was that I had been with this family at a moment of joy, and here I was with them at a moment of grief. I realized the level of responsibility I have toward individuals and families that I meet. It’s easy to smile and laugh and share in the high moments. But we carry more of a responsibility when we are there at the lowest.
“That has always stayed with me. Even if I don’t know a family when I meet them, I know they have lived a whole life before this time, and so there is an opportunity to connect on a much deeper level — far beyond just going through the motions of planning a funeral. Hopefully, we can all take something and learn from each other at a difficult time.”
Source: Russkaya Reklama, March 2, 2023

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