When Rwanda Met Estonia: Launching a New Year of Global Jewish Service

Danielle Falk (right), Yael Zaken (center), and Michael Kasden (left) attending the Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps orientation at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) headquarters in New York City on August 20. The three will spend a year at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda helping locals affected by the genocide.
Danielle Falk (right), Yael Zaken (center), and Michael Kasden (left) attending the Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps orientation at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) headquarters in New York City on August 20. The three will spend a year at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda helping locals affected by the genocide. photo: photo credit: Gil Shefler

When high schooler Danielle Falk picked up a copy of "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families," a book about the Rwandan genocide, it changed her life forever.

The vivid descriptions of the slaughter of Tutsis by the Hutu in the African country during the 1990s left a lasting impression on the 16-year-old, eventually influencing her decision to pursue a career in the not-for-profit world.

Now 25, the native New Yorker is preparing to spend a whole year in Rwanda at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village as part of JDC's Global Jewish Service Corps (JSC).

Agahozo means to dry one's tears while shalom means peace,” she said, speaking at the JSC gathering held at JDC headquarters in New York City this August. “It provides an education that a lot of young adults would not have had access to and provides family structure and support.”

Falk was one of about 30 young adults who attended the orientation before going out into the field. Over the coming weeks and months, JSC fellows will ship out to places as far and wide as Buenos Aires, Argentina; Krakow, Poland; Shanghai, China; Mumbai, India and Jerusalem, Israel, where they will serve local Jewish communities and help individuals in need.

The Global Jewish Service Corps is an initiative of JDC Entwine, a one-of-a-kind movement of young Jewish advocates, influencers, and leaders who seek to make a lasting impact on the global Jewish community. For more information about JDC Entwine, go to www.jdcentwine.org.

“The Jewish Service Corps provides an unparalleled opportunity for young Jews to interact with real global Jewish needs and international issues and to use their unique skills and talents to address challenges in local communities” said Shauna Ruda, program director of global volunteer programs for JDC Entwine.

This year, JSC organizers selected fellows from among hundreds of applicants. Most participants are from North America but in recent years there has been increased interest from individuals from other countries.

Maytal Kuperard of London will spend a year in Shanghai, while Olena Kushnir of Kiev, Ukraine, will work at the Young Adult Centers in Jerusalem.

Most fellows will begin their service in the coming weeks. Until then, they are busy getting vaccinations, spending time with friends and family, and, for Falk, rereading the book that originally piqued her interest in Rwanda.

“I’m sure I’ll see it very differently once I’m there,” she said.

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