I’m standing in the courtyard of the Kishinev Jacobs Jewish Campus, watching a parade of local Jews waving flags.
To my left, two visiting Hebrew teachers from Israel converse with a local Hebrew teacher, as the student standing beside her tries to pick up new words. To my right, a local teen encourages the men to put on t’fillin (phylacteries). Suddenly, a group of teens begins to dance. The song isn’t remotely Jewish, but I’ve heard it thousands of times:
Give me freedom Give me fire Give me reason Take me higher
Unify us Make us feel proud In the street our heads a'lifting As we loose our inhibition
When I get older I will be strong They'll call me freedom Just like a waving flag
I’m listening to the theme song for the 2010 World Cup when realization hits me like a ton of bricks.
I’ve spent the last several weeks contemplating why Jews have stayed in Moldova; whether there’s a future for Jewish community in the former Soviet Union (FSU); and why young Jews would choose to affiliate. This is because, where I come from, choice often leads to assimilation. I’ve forgotten that in the FSU, choice was the enemy; today, it is the privilege of the free.
These young people choose to be Jewish because it gives them something—a place to go, a place to belong, or a place to make a difference; obviously, the individual reasons vary. What doesn’t vary is the fact that identifying as a Jew in the FSU today can promise them and their families all those things—and that is something of a modern day miracle.
The next song is by Israeli songwriter Uzi Hitman: Here is my home and where I was born/Here are the friends with whom I was raised/And I don’t have another place/Here I was born and here my children will be born/Here is where I built my home with my two hands/Here you are with me, and all my thousands of friends/Here is the end to my wandering.
Right in front of me, 15 members of the youth club are dancing to an Israeli song about what it means to be home, and in so doing, they are building a home—a Jewish home. They are creating community and infusing their lives with Jewish values, history, and tradition in a place that not long ago denied them access to that rich heritage.
This is what “an end to our wandering” really means. Our wandering as a people ends each day we work to reclaim Jewish communities around the world, ensuring that Jewish life can take root and thrive in any and every place Jews choose to build it.
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