Finding My Global Jewish Family in “Georgia (Europe)”

It all started by trying to figure out what 'Georgia (Europe)' even was. That's how they wrote it in the letter that everyone interested in traveling with JDC received. To my surprise, this Georgia wasn't in the United States - instead, it was a recently independent country, a country with an area half the size of my Argentinian province, but with a Jewish community 10-20 times bigger.

October 1, 2015

Fernando leads an activity for children at a JDC family retreat in Ureki, Georgia.photo: Alex Weisler/JDC

It all started by trying to figure out what ‘Georgia (Europe)’ even was. That’s how they wrote it in the letter that everyone interested in traveling with JDC received. To my surprise, this Georgia wasn’t in the United States – instead, it was a recently independent country, a country with an area half the size of my Argentinian province, but with a Jewish community 10-20 times bigger.

Once I began looking into what this trip was all about, I decided to sign up for a few reasons. You could say the first reason was to visit a new country I wouldn’t have visited any other way. I also thought it would be cool to meet young people from other countries. Finally, I thought the activities there would enrich me – but I didn’t do a lot of analysis on that last point!

Then, I completed the form and waited…

To my great surprise, JDC chose me and I began receiving materials about the upcoming trip – biographies of my co-participants and the itinerary. When I read everyone’s biographies, I realized I’d be the only Spanish-speaking guy on the trip and also the only Latin American. The experience was getting better and better!

Thus began my journey, and after 24 hours of travel, I arrived in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. There, Guram, a friendly Georgian Jew who served as our guide, driver, and friend throughout the entire trip, came to greet me. His friendly ‘shalom’ made me feel like we were family immediately.

During the seven days of our trop, we visited families, children’s homes, social welfare centers, summer camps and more. With the kids we visited, we played; with the elderly we visited, we chatted. We learned so much about these people and shared our deepest emotions.

We were so far and so close – so far in kilometers but so close in our shared values. Our Jewish songs, our Shabbat dinners, the brachot we shared. We came together with Georgian Jews, singing in Hebrew, singing ‘Hatikva,’ helping each other.

I can’t explain the feeling of hearing the sentence, ‘All Jews are responsible for one another’ – a Talmudic principle and a JDC oath. I can’t explain the feeling of pride of belonging to a community that organizes, with JDC’s help, assistance to our people wherever they are. Nor can I explain the thrill of seeing young people and adults committed to helping work for chance, expecting nothing in return.

The trip was in memory of Frances C. Eizenstat, z’l, a benefactor, former JDC board member, and transformational leader. Thousands and thousands of Jewish people have a blessing in Frances. I hope G-d continues to let the altruism and charitable souls of the Jewish people continue to exist, ensuring the continuity of our people through tzedakah and tikkun loam.

I really understood in Tbilisi how giving a few hours of your time can transform a child’s sad face into a happy one, how giving five minutes of your attention to an old woman can make her feel important and loved.

Young generations must be involved if we’re going to guarantee the Jewish people’s future.

Georgia began for me as ‘Georgia (Europe),’ and ended up being the names, the experiences, the aromas, the flavors, the friends, and the feelings.

Fernando Camisar is a young professional committed to Jewish life. He lives in the northern Argentinian city of Salta, which has about 400 Jews, and is a JDC volunteer and member of several international Jewish organizations. In early July 2015, Fernando traveled to Georgia with JDC Entwine.

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