Young Leader Brings Jewish Inspiration Home to India
December 20, 2011
Hailing from a small and distant Jewish community like India’s, 21-year-old Meirah Bhastekar called JDC’s leadership training programs an opportunity to “discover the global Jewish community and embark upon building an international Jewish identity” with other leaders her age.
Meirah’s own strong Jewish identity began with her family. She fondly recalls Shabbat and holiday services at her grandparents’ home with her cousins, aunts, and uncles. “Being Jewish in a country where almost no one knows who Jews are can be very difficult, but my mom made sure we were always informed and were proud of our culture and tradition.”
And with that pride her family instilled a call to action. “Words like ‘responsibility’ came early to my ears,” she says. Active as a volunteer since 2005 and a graduate of JDC’s youth leadership training sessions, Meirah has been involved in almost every youth program and Jewish Community Center event in Mumbai. She credits her teenage youth group experience with keeping her “connected to my Jewish world” amid the struggles of adolescence and the start of an advertising career.
JDC invited Meirah to take part in a special session of the Buncher Community Leadership Program in Israel designed for the Indian community. She says that in addition to giving her an exhilarating first taste of Israel, “the inspiring program made me look at myself as a Jewish educator.”
Buncher also enhanced Meirah’s commitment to serve her community. She is now secretary of the local Jewish youth movement, which is spearheading a fundraising campaign to aid young people who need help paying for their schooling.
In 2010, Meirah received additional training at JDC’s international Jewish youth camp in Szarvas, Hungary, where she and other leaders from India met counselors from other countries and received key pointers from Jewish educators. Meirah returned from Szarvas “determined to take this experience forward in our community, for our kids’ day camps and youth camps.”
Further enrichment for Meirah and five of her peers came this past January at the Hadracha Training Institute in Turkey. She welcomed this opportunity to explore “an alternative community model that seemed to us the ideal Jewish community”—tightly knit, with a variety of institutions and an abundance of dedicated volunteers.
“After each one of these programs, I come back with added enthusiasm to do something in my own community,” says Meirah. “And this keeps us growing.”