Global Jewish Reflections | In Moldova, We’re Learning to Listen to Our Own Shofar Call

For Nikita Perunov, head of JDC's teen club in Chișinău, Moldova, Elul — along with the High Holidays that will soon follow — is a chance to reinvest in his community's future.

By Nikita Perunov - Head, Haverim Teen Club; Chișinău, Moldova | September 21, 2022

Nikita Perunov, left, leads Shabbat blessings at a JDC-supported event in Moldova.

I’ve been part of the Jewish community in Moldova since I was a young child, and in fact, my earliest memory is from the youth camp in Bălți, the country’s second-largest city and a heavily Jewish shtetl before World War II. It was 1993, and my father was working as a madrich (counselor); I was the “assistant to the madrich.”One evening, he was playing the guitar, and I — dressed as a ghost — would sing along with him from time to time. (I looked pretty cute.)

Later, as I got older, my parents took me to the children’s club at the JDC-supported Bălți Jewish Community Center (JCC), and that’s where I began to learn about Jewish traditions in more detail. We’d hold our meetings on Sundays, and I would wait all week because I knew I’d be welcomed there, that I’d learn something interesting and find other kids who shared my passion for Jewish games, dancing, books, and more. A few years later, I realized I wanted to devote my life to the Jewish community, and after participating in an informal Jewish education course in Chișinău, I became a madrich myself. 

These days, I’m proud to serve as the head of Haverim — the teen club in Chișinău, Moldova’s capital and a chapter of JDC’s Active Jewish Teens (AJT) youth network in the former Soviet Union. Haver means “friend” in Hebrew, and every Moldovan Jewish teenager who comes to our club finds a friendly atmosphere of like-minded people and mutual understanding. Everyone is at home, and we madrichim understand that we can help our teens develop their personalities and really blossom. Like a true friend, we try to guide each teen and make it clear to each of them that we value each for the unique person they are. 

Haverim, the teen club in Chișinău, Moldova, is a part of the Active Jewish Teens (AJT) network that JDC coordinates across the former Soviet Union.

Our most important goal is to help our teens develop into future young leaders of our community, preserve the culture and traditions of the Jewish people, and cement Moldova’s post-Soviet Jewish revival. Many people here have retained that old fear of being publicly Jewish, but we’re trying to make it clear that being Jewish is cool and that our people’s traditions are important and necessary. We try to give our teens opportunities and remind them that everyone is an important part of our community with their own unique role to play. It’s our job to help guide them and give them all the resources we can.

From the earliest days of the current crisis, Moldova absorbed a large number of people from Jewish communities in Ukraine, but proud isn’t necessarily the word I’d use for our community’s response. Rather, our efforts were the natural response to a terrible situation impacting our neighbors and fellow members of our global Jewish family. Our people have been united for centuries, and that sense of mutual responsibility has been passed down from generation to generation. How could we have acted any differently? We developed rich programming full of Jewish content for the refugees, met them at the border and saw them off to their next destinations, held Shabbat celebrations and meetings with rabbis and other lecturers … in short, we did everything we could. When we looked into people’s eyes, we saw them hoping for something to cling to, and so we jumped into action, doing what we know how to do well.

These days, I think all of us need to focus on peace — in the world and within ourselves. In this month of Elul, as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, we can stop, analyze our actions, think about the future, and streamline our thoughts. We can remember that the traditions given to our people since time immemorial have helped us stay strong, united, and driven by our values.

We can remember that the traditions given to our people since time immemorial have helped us stay strong, united, and driven by our values.

In Moldova, we have a saying: “Ai intrat în horă, trebuie să joci,” which means “If you’ve entered the circle, dance.” The same is true of our Jewish community: Every time a person comes to our KEDEM JCC, to an event or a class, they understand it will be fun, just like in a big friendly family where there’s a place for everyone. We’re always full of positivity and optimism, and in absolutely any situation, the people of our community find the strength to love life, cope with any situation, and help as much as they can. Throughout our country’s Jewish history, we’ve shown ourselves to be friendly and hospitable — our guests will be listened to, guided on their path, and quickly become our friends.

I’m grateful for all of the opportunities that those who support JDC have provided us. It’s this assistance that helps us not only meet the challenges of our present but prepare for our future. 

Like the call of the shofar, each of us can find our own call to action. Even if you look at it metaphorically, I think we’re all awaiting, in some sense, the building of the Third Temple — that sense of true community and of shared purpose. Here in Moldova, we already have all the bricks and building materials, and we all know what to do, so now’s the time for us to break ground.

Nikita Perunov is the head of Haverim, the teen club at the KEDEM JCC in Chișinău, Moldova.

Haverim is a chapter of Active Jewish Teens (AJT), the JDC youth network in the former Soviet Union (FSU), powered in partnership with the Genesis Philanthropy Group and part of the BBYO global movement.

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