In Spain, Front-Line Jewish Leaders Share Expertise

August 12, 2015


They came from almost every country in Europe.

Dozens of Jewish activists and leaders from Spain to Finland, Greece to the U.K., gathered in Barcelona on June 29 to discuss major issues affecting their communities across Europe including anti-Semitism, political extremism and economic hardship.

During the two-day gathering, participants focused took part in a series of workshops and lectures aimed at bolstering crisis management and response, community security, and streamlining inter-communal cooperation.

“As a variety of challenges threaten European Jews, it was critical for us to provide a forum for Jewish community leaders to engage in a healthy, robust conversation on challenges they face and present specific, concrete ways of overcoming them,” said Diego Ornique, JDC Regional Director for Europe. “I’m certain many of the skills and tools will be utilized by community leaders in the immediate future, maintaining the balance between thriving Jewish life and an uncertain European socioeconomic landscape.”

The conference — called “Building Common Answers” and co-organized with the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and European Council of Jewish Communities (ECJC) — came at an important juncture for Jews in Europe. Since the beginning of the year, there have been two fatal anti-Semitic shootings, in Paris and Copenhagen. In addition, the ongoing euro crisis has impacted economies around the continent. To address these issues and others, JDC convened experts, analysts, and community leaders to talk about ways to bolster communities at times of crisis.

Rabbi Michael Melchior, Norway’s senior Jewish religious leader and a former Israeli cabinet minister, declared Jews in Europe were determined to stay and continue to build their communities despite recent anti-Semitic attacks.

Besides Melchior, Benjamin Albalas, a Greek Jew and a leader of the European Council of Jewish Communities (ECJC) was one of the participants, among other leaders.

One workshop was led by David Gidron, a social psychologist and expert in community resilience and crisis management who has worked extensively with JDC.

“The message of responsibility, sustainability and development — that’s the real security,” said Gidron. “That’s been present throughout the conference and it’s the whole story.”

Other speakers included Eric Ghozlan, a psychologist and project manager for the Psychodrama and Resilience Unit of France’s OSE community organization, and Taly Levanon of the Israeli Trauma Coalition. Ghozlan talked about lessons learned from the attacks in Paris while Levanon spoke about psychosocial preparedness and building response systems within communities.

There were many highlights and breakthroughs at the conference. Madrid and Lisbon are only a few hours away by car, but some leaders of the Jewish communities had never met before the conference. At the gathering, David Hatchwell of Madrid and his counterpart in Lisbon vowed to improve their ties and collaborate in the future.

One of the more interesting delegations came from Finland. Identical twins Ariel and Yaron Nadbornik, and Shaul Ylinen, represented this community of about 1,100 people, earning it the unique distinction of having the largest proportionate representation at the event. Yaron Nadbornik, who was recently elected president of the Central Council of Jewish Communities in Finland, said the oversized delegation was a sign of their deep commitment to Jewish communities in Europe.

“The conference touched on the nerve of today’s communal life in Europe which is security, resilience, and learning to cope with the current situation,” said Ariel, a Jewish professional and a former JDC representative in the Baltics. “The professionals here are providing answers to communities grappling with these challenges. Now they know who to turn to.”

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