Balkan Caravan Takes Purim Pride on the Road

March 15, 2011


Daria’s face lights up as she describes her participation in the Purim Caravan that will be voyaging across the Balkans this week. “All the things that we do … dancing, singing, acting, traveling, teaching other Jews around Europe … are awesome!” she exclaims.

Daria, who is from Belgrade, will join more than 20 other Jews, ages 17 to 27, in an innovative “holiday caravan”—a program developed by JDC, in partnership with European Jewish communities, to take Jewish celebrations (e.g., Purim, Pesach, Chanukah) and performances “on the road.” It is one of JDC’s many “JCC without walls” initiatives that today are bringing Jewish culture and tradition to people where they are-often outside of traditional community institutions and into alternative spaces (e.g., theaters, cafes) and even, literally, to the streets for holiday festivals.

This year’s Purim caravan includes young performers from various Balkan countries, including Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Romania, Serbia, and Croatia. Over the course of 10 days they will touch seven Jewish communities as they make stops in Bucharest, Romania; Sofia, Bulgaria; Istanbul, Turkey; Thessaloniki, Greece; Belgrade, Serbia; and Timisoara, Romania.

Dara is a three-year veteran of the caravan—just one of the ways that she expresses the strong Jewish identity she has developed over the years. She started attending Sunday school and Jewish camp at age 5, and since then has participated in leadership training and become a madricha. “I can’t imagine my life without being in the Jewish community,” she proudly declares.

But many of the show’s participants are newer to the burgeoning Jewish scene in the region. They illustrate the new trend among young European Jews who are seeking out community activities on their own.

For Iana, taking part in the Purim Caravan is a unique opportunity to fulfill an emerging curiosity about Judaism. She comes from a small Romanian community of 300 Jews where she did not have the chance to participate actively in Jewish programming. This will be both a learning and a teaching experience for her, as well as an exciting opportunity to network and build lasting relationships with her Jewish peers in the region.

The troupe will take the stage in every city, performing the show “Diaspora and Continuity,” which they wrote earlier this year with educational support from local JDC professionals. Their interactive performance takes the audience through historical Jewish events to illustrate that the Jewish people’s struggle to preserve religious traditions, culture, and literacy has been central to their survival. In each community, an exhibition highlighting important local, Jewish historical events will accompany the show.

And even once the proverbial curtain falls in each city, the impact of these young performers will remain. The caravan educates members of the destination communities about the Jewish value of Tzadakah, suggesting that all attendees make a donation to support a program for the poorest Jews in the Balkans (last year the event raised $3000).

“Playing in the caravan is not just performing in front of Jewish people from different communities. It is gathering money for charity, and making people feel special and happy,” explains Daria. “There is nothing that feels better than seeing the smiles on people’s faces and the love in their eyes when they watch the stories of Jewish history come to life!”

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