In the years that I’ve worked for JDC, I’ve learned one thing for certain: even when you travel to a distant corner of the world, you’re bound to be inspired by a story of Jews rediscovering and reconnecting to their Jewish roots.
My latest example was told to me at a dinner two weeks ago in Almaty, Kazakhstan, toward the end of a JDC Strategic Partnerships mission. I was seated with two young leaders very involved with the local Jewish community, and I soon learned all about them. Sergei is a building contractor; Lena, his wife, is a graphic designer. Both are in their early forties and are regular volunteers at the local Hesed, the Jewish welfare center that JDC helps support. In Almaty, the Hesed also functions as a Jewish Community Center, and Sergei and Lena are both members of the JCC/Hesed Board.
Sergei grew up knowing he was Jewish. It wasn't a particularly significant part of his life. In fact, his mother actually listed their nationality as "Ukrainian" rather than "Jewish" on their internal Soviet passports, having lived through some anti-Semitic attacks in Ukraine before the family moved to Kazakhstan. When the young couple first met, religion wasn't an important issue for either one of them, and Sergei thought nothing of marrying a nice non-Jewish girl like Lena.
But later, as their two children started to grow up—they're now 12 and 16—Sergei increasingly felt the need to reconnect to his Jewish roots, and get his children involved in their Jewish heritage.
Lena had no objection; she’d grown up with no religious connections or feelings. In fact, as their children’s participation in Jewish community activities increased, Lena readily joined Sergei as both started to get involved in community life. As is often the case, the Hesed reached out to them through their kids. And like so many members of a generation that grew up with no connection to Jewish knowledge or community, the Hesed became their family’s Jewish home.
After some years, Lena finally plucked up the courage to tell her parents that their grandchidren were now actively involved in the Jewish community and that through them, she, too, had become involved. With great trepidation, she said that she increasingly saw herself as a part of the Jewish community.
Imagine Lena’s reaction when she learned, at that very meeting, that both her parents were in fact Jewish, and so was she!
"It hadn't been important for them," she said, "and they never knew how to explain it to themselves or to me." Lena’s tale is a very common story in the former Soviet Union, where so many Jews were completely cut off from Jewish life for over 70 years.
But this tale has a postscript that makes it all the more worthwhile:
Following my dinner conversation with Sergei and Lena, I went to the Almaty Hesed, where I sat and watched as dozens of the JCC’s teenagers sang Hebrew songs and led discussions on Jewish identity. There we were, in the middle of Kazakhstan, inspired and moved by their commitment to Jewish life and learning, and impressed by their proficiency. And as I watched five beautiful young women sing together in harmony, another young member of the community leaned over to my seat and said, "Do you see that girl in the middle, with the brown hair and the orange and black top? I think you just had dinner with her mom and dad….”
A senior JDC professional, Dov recently returned from a weeklong JDC mission to Turkey and Kazakhstan.
An Error Occurred
Logging In With One of Your Social Web Site Logins
Instead of trying to remember a bunch of special username/password combinations to log in to different web sites that you visit, you can now link your account on this web site to your account on one (or more) of the social media web sites shown and log in with the same username/password combination that you use on that social web site to log in to our site.
To provide this connection in a secure manner, we use Gigya, a social network connection provider that works behind the scenes to make safe, secure connections between user accounts on different systems, such as popular social media web sites like Facebook and web sites like ours where you are actively involved in social issues and causes.
Each time you log in, Gigya uses special application programming interfaces (APIs) to establish the connection between the sites and validate your username and password. Neither our web site or Gigya receive or store your social network passwords.
In addition to reducing the number of logins you have to remember, connecting your accounts can make it quicker and easier to share an activity or cause you feel passionately about from our web site with your friends on your social web sites.
You can break the connection between your accounts at any time.