Feature Stories

Volunteer Takes Her Jewish Spirit From Durham to Duisburg and Beyond

Jewish Service Corps fellow Sarah Goldenstein spent her 2011-2012 volunteer year in Duisburg, Germany, teaching Russian-speaking Jewish kindergarteners about Shabbat and Jewish holiday traditions.
Jewish Service Corps fellow Sarah Goldenstein spent her 2011-2012 volunteer year in Duisburg, Germany, teaching Russian-speaking Jewish kindergarteners about Shabbat and Jewish holiday traditions.

Sarah Goldenstein, 25, never imagined she’d go from teaching Sunday school in her home state of North Carolina to helping build Jewish community among Russian immigrants in Germany, but that’s exactly what she’s been doing for the past two years as a Jewish Service Corps fellow through JDC’s Entwine initiative for inspired young Jews.

A one-of-a-kind movement for young Jewish leaders, influencers, and advocates who seek to make a meaningful impact on global Jewish needs and international humanitarian issues, JDC Entwine offers short- and long-term service opportunities in Jewish communities worldwide, in Israel, and in countries where JDC is involved in international development work.

In her first year as a Jewish Service Corps fellow, Sarah traveled to Berlin, Germany, where she worked with the Bambinim Family Club, a JDC early childhood development program centered on the Jewish calendar and life cycle. Diving right in with the three- to five-year-olds, Sarah was charged with co-running the Shabbat playgroup, organizing holiday programs, and creating special events.

Working with the largely Russian and Israeli immigrant population was a new challenge, but Sarah decided to infuse herself into her work directly. “I love to bake and I grew up getting together with my family to cook on every Jewish holiday. I wanted to help teach people to be Jewish in different ways (not just religiously), so I introduced Challah-making to the families. They loved it! It helped get more people to our Shabbat and also helped them bring Shabbat back to their homes.” The community continues to run the program today.

Her unique, hands-on approach helped her land a second-year fellowship, in Duisburg, Germany. This time, working with primarily Russian speakers was a very different experience because she was trying to get a myriad of her own initiatives off the ground: she taught English in the kindergarten, worked at a youth center for 12- to 18-year-olds, and prepared Shabbat and holiday activities to help teach the community about Jewish traditions.

“I was working with people who’d had tough lives and really struggled. They’d not been dealt the best hand, so their attitudes and needs were shaped by that.”

Sarah spoke to everyone she encountered about the meaning of community. “At first I looked for the simple components of Jewish life—going to synagogue, celebrating Jewish holidays, doing service work, sending kids to religious school—and wondered why people didn’t adopt those. Then I started to see that for immigrants there are a whole host of other issues: assimilation, having to reform their lives, teaching their kids their language and the language of their new country, learning how to be prosperous. Being Jewish is important but it’s just one component of the whole experience of their immigration.”

Again, Sarah approached her work with sensitivity. Realizing Hebrew was already the third or fourth language for many of her youngest students, she decided to focus on visuals in her teaching. For example, for the chagim she’d make memory cards with pictures or symbols pertaining to the holidays and then she’d blow them up and turn them into puzzles. “It was new for them and they really learned through this approach.”

After her second year in the field, Sarah sees things are more nuanced. “‘Community’ here is something different and developing it requires looking for unique solutions and models. The reality is it’s going to take generations.” She compared this development to that of the American community, which went through marked transitions and didn’t instantly flourish. “Ideas like faith, community life, and philanthropy didn’t exist for people in former Soviet countries for so long,” Sarah adds. “They don’t become a part of people’s lives immediately. It’s the creative and untraditional models that I think are going to be the most compatible here.”

Learning through experience and developing perspective are some of the key take-aways JSC fellows continually speak about. “A lot of people come in thinking ‘I’m going to give so much, I’m going to teach so much,’ but at the end of the day the most important thing that happens is you learn a lot.”

With the start of the New Year, Sarah is journeying to her third JSC placement, now in Belgrade, Serbia, where she’s looking forward to working with young adults in the youth center and doing programming with the madrichim (counselors) who serve in JDC-supported seminars and camps throughout the region.

“To me the JSC fellowship is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You get directly implanted into the field with Jewish communities and people who want to work with you. You are supported, gain tremendous experience, and learn so much.”

For more Information: JDC Entwine Jewish Service Corps fellowship

Tags for this story: Children, Education, Entwine

Subscribe to our RSS feed: Feature Stories – JDC Around the World

An error occurred during your login.


JDC, Cookies, and Your Privacy

Cookies are small pieces of information sent by our web server for storage on your computer, to be retrieved when you return to this site. We use cookies to allow you faster, more convenient access, and to prevent you from being required to log in on every page of our sites.

For more information on JDC’s use of cookies, read our Privacy Policy.


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.