Hip Hop in Moldova as Next Gen’rs Create their Own Jewish Space
In my quest to learn about the young Jewish crowd in Moldova, if it existed, meeting with the Haverim youth club was a priority for me in Kishinev. I don't know what I expected to find, but I certainly didn't expect to see a “friendship circle” of 50 youth: boys wearing kippot, girls lighting and blessing Shabbat candles, followed by Kiddush, ritual washing, and HaMotzi—all scenes eerily similar to those of my own upbringing in a Jewish youth group.
On Saturday evening, I arrived in time for Havdalah, followed by a circle of hugs. Participants went out of their way to include me, which made me much more self-conscious than the class taught by the eighth place Hip Hop champion of Moldova, who is Jewish and a member of the club!
Haverim attracts 100 active participants (and some 550 for large events). They are led by a volunteer staff of madrichim (counselors) who relate to their positions as seriously as if they were paid, giving freely of their time, passion, and energy. Participants come to the JDC-supported Kishinev Jacobs Jewish Campus (KJJC) weekly, if not daily, for sessions that include Hebrew or French lessons, Jewish Dance or Hip Hop, computer technology and design, and more—all taught by members, for members. In addition, members of Haverim lead educational programming at the annual youth and family camps that are held each summer.
I spent most of my time with 17-year-old Katya, my appointed translator. I wanted to understand why she dedicates so much of her time, day in and day out, to Haverim. I realized that I felt close to her because her passion reminded me of my own, years ago. But in my youth group, young people were primed for leadership within existing institutional frameworks, and guided by a professional and religious infrastructure. In stark contrast, Haverim operates from the ground up: these young people in Kishinev are creating those frameworks for themselves!
I had assumed Jewish life in Moldova would seem far removed from my own experience, but I realized, to my surprise, that issues in Jewish identity building are still very much the same. Young people are interested in engaging with their Jewish identity, but they aren’t looking for a top-down experience. They want access to their Jewish history, heritage, and culture; and they want to “own” their Jewish identity and pass it on. And Haverim at the KJJC is a flourishing example of how they are accomplishing this.
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