(New York, NY) – The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) is set to host its largest-ever volunteer conference for Jews across the former Soviet Union on May 17th-19th. Taking place just outside Kiev, Ukraine, the three-day conference will bring together over 250 Jewish volunteers and professionals from JDC’s regional volunteer center network for educational sessions, expert presentations, and team building exercises aimed at strengthening its growing service cohort, with the majority of the sessions led by local volunteers themselves. Participants will draw from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Georgia. The work of JDC’s volunteer network is made possible through JDC’s partnership with the Genesis Philanthropy Group, the global foundation focused on Russian-speaking Jewry, Jewish Federations, and individual foundations and donors.

“We’re proud of our role in fueling a trend among thousands of Jews in post-Soviet countries to enthusiastically give back and build community. By turning out in increasing numbers to aid the elderly and vulnerable, care for and cultivate local humanitarian institutions, and engage their peers in Jewish culture and ideals, they are serving as role models for Jewish leadership today,“ said Michal Frank, JDC’s Director for the former Soviet Union. “As we work to strengthen Jewish life worldwide, we have much to learn from their example. Not only have they upended Communism’s historic disdain for volunteer activities, they are offering us new paths for Jewish connection and meaning.”   

Among conference highlights is a volunteer fair where participants will present their most innovative volunteer programming, with the top three winners receiving prize money to help fund further volunteer training and other initiatives. Additional workshops will focus on trends in volunteer activities and needs, successful strategies for project management, resource development, PR and marketing, and partnership development. Additionally, a contingent of Israeli volunteers, with experience in launching and managing large volunteer projects, are set to present their own volunteer projects among best practices being showcased. A traditional Shabbat experience, including Kabbalat Shabbat, Shabbat dinner, and Havdalah service will be part of the Jewish content portion of the conference. 

“My experience as a volunteer has been life-changing, both as a Jewish person and as a community leader. When you come together with others who are driven by the desire to improve lives and create Jewish community, you feel unstoppable. I cannot wait to meet and learn from others doing this work in communities across the former Soviet Union and build connections that help us change the world and carry out our vision for Jewish life today,” said Antonine Pijevscaia, a 67-year-old volunteer from Kishinev, Moldova.

Launched in 2014, JDC’s volunteer center network has grown from a handful of passionate local leaders to more than 5,300 volunteers working in forty-four cities in six countries to improve the lives of more than 40,000 people. JDC volunteers in the former Soviet Union aim to promote volunteerism as a Jewish value by addressing important community needs and cultivating a strong sense of communal responsibility. The volunteer centers recruit and train volunteers, identify local needs in partnership with other Jewish and general organizations, and develop programming for a broad range of local causes and issues, including aiding children at risk and the elderly, as well as service at local hospitals and Jewish institutions.