Tag Archives: Soviet Jewry

Daring to Dream

I'm writing this week’s message from Dnepropetrovsk as I prepare to make my way back to Boston, after spending a week representing the Boston Jewish community on an important Jewish Federations of North America mission. I hope you've been following my posts throughout the trip on Facebook. I’ll admit, I've been struggling with what to take away from my third visit to this community I've come to love.

There is so much despair here. There are worries about escalation of the conflict with Russia and over Ukraine's ability to defeat corruption and overcome the economic crisis. There is despair in the families we've met on home visits— single mothers, often disabled themselves, caring for disabled teens, not at all clear what will happen to those kids after they are gone. There are internally displaced people who have no immediate hope of returning to their homes in Donetsk, but who are also not ready to let go of all they left behind to make Aliyah.

What to make of all this?

I want to tell you about two young people I met.

KatyaAt the Jewish Agency in Dnepropetrovsk we met a young woman, Katya, who spoke English remarkably well. She told us that she studied English at the Dnep Jewish day school, and that from 2008-2012 she participated in the English language camp run by Prozdor at Hebrew College through the Boston partnership, a program where teens from our community help kids in Dnepropetrovsk learn English in an immersive camp experience. Katya recently completed her university degree in public affairs and is now working for the Jewish Agency, helping prepare families in Ukraine to make Aliyah.

During my last visit a year ago, Yoni Leifer, director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in Dnep, showed me their new but largely empty space in the Menorah Center where they would soon be moving the Solomonika JCC, a project supported by CJP's targeted funding for JDC programs in Dnep. This week, the two of us walked through a loving vibrant institution, filled with after school programs, arts courses, dance classes, and community members meeting to plan summer programs. In one room, the children of displaced families from the conflict zone were in a social program to help them heal from their trauma. Yarick, a teenager from Dnepropetrovsk, was working with these little children, helping them with their projects, guiding them through activities on the play rug. As I watched him, I began to cry with joy.

11406805_10153502055693313_5380372696202129547_n

Katya and Yarick are two of the many young people from the Dnepropetrovsk Jewish community that we in Boston have helped over the years. Katya honed her American quality English in one of our programs. Now she is a young Jewish professional giving back to her community by helping others to connect to Israel. Yarick found a home at the JCC and he is giving back as well, helping other Jews who have come to his community through crisis and chaos.

Katya and Yarick are who I am thinking about as I leave Dnepropetrovsk. Over 23 years, in partnership with the Dnep Kehillah and with the JDC, we in Boston have helped build the foundations of a new generation of young Jews, committed to others and to the Jewish values and the community we sought to revitalize in the Former Soviet Union when we started this journey.

Katya and Yarick give me hope. They show me what is possible when we imagine a glorious future, when we dream and commit to building the institutions and programs we need in order to transmit our values to the next generation.

Thanks to Katya and Yarick, I end this visit with hope for what is possible for Dnepropetrovsk, for the Jewish people, for Ukraine... if only we dare dream it and then build it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Examining the Continuing Crisis in Ukraine

This Sunday, I will be flying to Ukraine to represent CJP and the Boston Jewish community on an important Jewish Federations of North America mission. 

We make this visit in the second year of an ongoing crisis that has not abated. The economy there is struggling, with inflation at about 40%. Tensions continue with Russia and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine continues to work toward building an open, responsive government that aspires to be more integrated into western European culture and markets.

All of this has created profound strain on the relatively large Jewish community in Ukraine. Many have left the conflict zone, some choosing to make Aliyah. Others have become a Jewish displaced people in Europe, the first since the end of World War II, part of a larger internally displaced Ukrainian people.

You can learn more about the crisis in this post from Alan Gill, CEO of the JDC, which is organizing this trip together with JFNA and the Jewish Agency.

Dnepropetrovsk, Boston’s sister Jewish community in the former Soviet Union and close to (but not in) the conflict zone, has become host to large numbers of refugees this past year and is where we’ll be staying during our visit. As many of you know, JCRC has been privileged to lead the Boston Jewish community’s partnership with Dnep (as we fondly refer to her) since 1992.  As part of a broader commitment to best serve the ongoing needs of our Kehillah partner and to support JCRC’s move to a strategic focus on our work in the public square in Boston, we announced this week that the management of this partnership will transition from JCRC to CJP at the end of this month. However, it remains a true honor to represent our community next week on my third visit to Dnep.

The struggle for Soviet Jewry was a cause that defined JCRC and many American Jews in my youth. It was a movement I personally was proud to be raised within – quite literally – and it defined my own identity as a Jewish activist committed to global Jewish peoplehood. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Dnepropetrovsk Kehillah Project has been part of a defining idea of Boston’s Jewish community; that we are connected to and responsible for the welfare of Jewish communities around the world. It is remarkable to see first-hand what has been achieved. It is profound to know that institutions we helped build are now serving as centers for refugees – Jewish and Christian – from the conflict zone. I look forward to sharing Boston’s unique partnership success with Jewish leaders from around the nation next week.

This relationship is just one among many that make Boston’s Jewish community unique. Even though the team at JCRC will no longer be managing this work, it is part of what makes me proud to be part of our special community. Of course, JCRC will continue to do government affairs advocacy in support of Ukraine, and we will be proud to be part of a community that cares so deeply about global Jewry.

I look forward to sharing with you my impressions of the situation in Ukraine and the work of so many of our friends and partner agencies.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy