This Purim, Cultivating Jewish Life in Latvia

As Purim approaches, Diana Glikman reflects on the values that power her work in Riga's Jewish community.

By Diana Glikman - Coordinator, JCC Riga | March 17, 2022

Diana Glikman embarked on her Jewish journey at the JDC-supported JCC Riga in Riga, Latvia.

Diana Glikman grew up at the very center of Jewish Latvia, where she was an active member of the JDC-supported JCC Riga and an alum of Camp Szarvas, the JDC-Ronald S. Lauder international Jewish summer camp in Hungary. As Purim approaches, Glikman thinks about the resonance between the story of this holiday and the story of Jewish Latvia, the advantages of a small community, and the importance of strong Jewish institutions.

I felt Jewish from the very beginning of my life.  

And I credit my Jewish upbringing with the Jewish institutions that tied my community together, like the JDC-supported JCC Riga, where I now work. 

I grew up in these institutions – first at Jewish kindergarten and then, when I turned seven, Jewish camps. Latvia is my home, and though our Jewish community is small, we are also very proud. Everyone is someone’s friend or a friend’s friend. We are often quite literally an extended family, and JCC Riga is our second home. Before the pandemic, I could often find my grandmother at one of JCC Riga’s many programs for elderly Jews. 

Living in this small community has its advantages. In the UK, where I currently live, or in the US, there are so many different Jewish communities, and thus so many different ways to belong. But in Latvia, and across the Baltics, Jewish life is more united.  

In Latvia, this means that we all gather in JCC Riga, a place that has been so central to my Jewish story. I started volunteering there when I was twelve, and for three years, until I was 15, I was an elected board member, where I prepared Friday programs for teens. JCC Riga gave me a chance to start my life’s work, and at such a young age. 

I feel especially lucky for JCC Riga, because my parents and grandparents didn’t have the resources that I now enjoy. In the 1960s and 1970s, before the JCC and Baltic Jewish camps existed, my parents experienced more discrimination; they grew up at a time when Jewish life was kept quiet.  

But times have changed. Like Queen Esther, who had to conceal her Jewish identity, but saved her people from destruction, the younger generations have carried Jewish Latvia into the open, helping to make JCC Riga what it is today – a vibrant center of Latvian Jewish life, where we can support each other and don’t have to hide.  

I also felt this way about the Baltic Jewish camps. I was only seven when I first went to a summer Jewish camp in Estonia called Olameinu. At summer camp, Jewish children from across the Baltics gathered as one Jewish family. We learned about each other’s communities and shared our unique perspectives. 

And then there was Szarvas. 

Szarvas introduced me to a larger international Jewish community. It’s a unique experience where you realize how large the Jewish world is, beyond your home. At Szarvas, I got to see what Jewish life looks like in the United States, Hungary, Germany, Israel, and elsewhere.  

If it wasn’t for JCC Riga, there wouldn’t be a place for Latvian Jews to belong at all.

Szarvas also made me into a Jewish leader. As I got older, I went to the school of madrichim (counselors) and became a madricha, inspiring young Jews to become leaders in their own communities.  

My global Jewish experience at Szarvas strengthened my commitment to local Jewish life back in Latvia. Because I realized that I am a part of something truly big and even more significant than I thought before, Szarvas has always been a very inspirational experience. Today, I’ve built on that experience and now work as a coordinator at JCC Riga.  

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve helped coordinate many virtual activities that kept us together even when we were forced to be apart. But one of my favorite parts of this job is that I get to help coordinate the madrichim in the Baltic camps; I help create the same life-changing experience for them as I had when I was a madricha

This work is invaluable. If it wasn’t for JCC Riga, there wouldn’t be a place for Latvian Jews to belong at all. This building that people pass each day, this building that looks very simple from the outside, has some great –  and I would even say historical –  things happening inside.  

It is crucial to have a place where all Jews can congregate and share their experiences.  

That’s why JCC Riga is so important – it’s our safe space. It’s our home. It’s where we can fully be ourselves. And it’s a place where all Jews can support each other, especially in these difficult times –   something that Purim teaches us to do year after year. 

Thanks to the JCC Riga, and the JDC, I know that we will keep Jewish Latvia alive for generations to come.  

A devoted Jewish community participant since she was 7 years old, Diana Glikman, now 20, serves as a coordinator of the JDC-supported JCC Riga in Riga, Latvia. Diana also attended the JDC-Lauder Szarvas international Jewish summer camp in Hungary. At 15, she started working as a madricha (counselor) in local and international camps, and four years later, became a coordinator of madrichim. Though Diana has lived in the UK for the last four years, she remains active and devoted to the development of Jewish Latvia. 

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