More than 350 Jewish teens and young adult leaders from the former Soviet Union will celebrate their role in strengthening Jewish life at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Active Jewish Teens (AJT) Conference in Kharkov, Ukraine from November 16-19. The gathering, created and run with the AJT teens, will include participants from JDC and BBYO networks in Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Estonia, and Israel. And for the first time, American teens active in BBYO, the Jewish teen movement, will also join as part of JDC and BBYO’s global partnership focused on building a worldwide movement of Jewish young people.

“It’s nothing short of miraculous that in just one generation since the fall of Communism, these teens are proudly exploring and embracing their Jewish identity and building new avenues for Jewish life through innovative projects, volunteerism, and meaningful leadership roles,” said JDC CEO David Schizer. “We can be quite proud of the role we have played in making this dream — of impassioned young Jews dedicated to Jewish community and the wider Jewish world — a reality, and to have partners like BBYO to support the robust engagement of local teens from Ukraine to Latvia.”

The conference’s overall focus will be on Jewish values, with more than 100 workshops exposing the teens to tikkun olam (repairing the world), Jewish mutual responsibility, Jewish laws and customs, volunteerism best practices, and contemporary interpretations of classic Jewish texts. A stand out session will mimic the U.S.-based hit show “Shark Tank,” enabling five teens to present grassroots projects they want to implement in their community. The selected winner will receive a small grant from a committee made up of donors and a JDC representative to jumpstart their effort.

‘As AJT president, I have learned that creative thinking, good communication, and effective time management are key to getting things done. But for me, the most important thing that AJT has given me is a strong connection to Jewish culture and Judaism.  It is this connection to my Jewish heritage that is my source of inspiration and motivation to continue working on behalf of my community now and in the future,” said Dima Arutynov, 18, Co-President of AJT.

Teen participants will learn from inspiring speakers and AJT teachers, graduates of JDC’s flagship Metusda leadership program, directors of youth clubs, and well-known local and Israeli educators to deepen their Jewish knowledge. A festive opening kickoff will be led by the current AJT President and Parliament. Attendees can also participate in a Jewish song leading sessions led by BBYO song leaders, as well as Israeli dancing and an art workshop, Shabbat and Havdalah ceremonies, and the election of the new AJT presidents.

‘No matter where in the world, when teens are given the opportunity to build their own experiences and create their own community, they usually exceed their own lofty expectations” said Matt Grossman, BBYO CEO.  “Their optimism and creativity are writing a new history for Jewish organizations and Jewish life.”

Active Jewish Teens (AJT) is JDC’s rapidly expanding Jewish youth group and peer network grew out of a confluence of enthusiastic grassroots efforts, and growing demand, by Jewish youth in Ukraine and Russia and the wider former Soviet Union, to build connectivity between young Jews in the region. This was made possible by combining guidance and resources from both JDC and BBYO and the expertise of JDC-BBYO fellows placed in Ukraine through JDC Entwine who helped provide critical tools to shape and build the movement of which these young Jews dreamed

‘During my experience as AJT president, I have learned how to effectively communicate with my peers, how to lead and motivate others, and how to make dreams come true!    A year ago when I was running for President, I campaigned on having more sports at AJT – and this year we had an AJT Sports day in which over 20 cities from across the FSU participated in day of sports!  I learned hard work and determination – and dreams — can bring results, said Eva Shepilova, 16, co-President of AJT.

In just three years, AJT’s network has flourished, now connecting over 3,000 teens through local chapters in 57 cities across the former Soviet Union. AJT brings teens together at its annual conference, now in its fourth year, just like their teenage peers in JDC-BBYO partner communities around the world.