Through Junction, Fostering Jewish Life in Greece
One young Greek Jewish leaders reflects on the challenges and potential of his country's next generation — and how JDC programs help connect him to his peers and inspire new ideas.
By Sam Mosios - Junction Participant | September 5, 2023
For those curious about Europe’s Jewish future, they ought to meet Sam Mosios, a young Jewish leader in Thessaloniki, Greece. Mosios felt called to help lead his local Jewish community when he attended a recent Balkan Multipliers event organized by Junction, the JDC pan-European initiative that empowers young Jews to take part in European Jewish life. Here, Mosios discusses why Junction is vital to European Jewish life and why the Balkans event was so needed.
Thessaloniki: Madre de Israel, Jerusalem of the Balkans.
These are just a few nicknames for this international crossroads of Judaism. I’ve always felt a strange weight on my shoulders, knowing what came before me. Even after the Nazi devastation of the Jewish population in 1942, our culture was imprinted deep within the city’s roots: They couldn’t destroy us.
But this isn’t the time or place for me to share my city’s history. It’s widely available online for anyone who’s interested. This is, however, the time and place for me to say that the term “Jerusalem of the Balkans” is not at all outdated: Thessaloniki is a major hub of the region’s Jewish life.
This was made clear to me when I attended the recent Balkan Multipliers event, held by Junction, which took place in Thessaloniki. This event was built to facilitate the coming together of eight countries, to envision what was possible for us, as young Balkan Jews. Many attendees were inspired by the Junction Annual, held in Berlin in February 2023 — a conference that brought together young Jews from across Europe to experience, imagine, and enact Jewish life by themselves, for themselves.
Before the Multipliers event, I felt somewhat connected to my community, I guess. I received Jewish education in primary school, I attended holidays in the synagogue, and I was part of Greek Jewish summer camps from age 6 to 22 (when I had to start working). I know most people from the Greek Jewish community around my age, and I’m lucky to call many of them my dear friends.
I still wanted to do more, though. I had the drive to create and innovate, to take responsibility for my community — but I needed an outlet for this. Whether it was school or camp, even as madrichim (counselor), we, as Greek Jewish youth, wanted to play a more active role in promoting Jewish life.
This is where Balkan Multipliers came and showed us what was possible.
To all my fellow introverts out there: You all know the dreadful feeling of being in a place full of people you don’t know — people who all seem to know each other — having no one to talk to, and not knowing how to engage. Approximately 10 minutes into the Balkan Multipliers event, this feeling had completely vanished, and all I could see was the tremendous potential for our Balkan Jewish community.
I love traveling, and over the past few years I have been fortunate to visit some major cities in central Europe: Berlin, Budapest, Prague, and more. While these were all phenomenal trips which I enjoyed thoroughly, there is always a gap between us, as Greeks, and the rest of the region. I am not referring to the language — nowadays, English has demolished that barrier. But the lifestyle, mentality, customs, ideas, behaviors, and quirks are very particular to each culture.
That’s exactly why we craved something like the Balkan Multipliers event — one of the best weekends I’ve had in my life — because young Jews from across Greece and the region needed a space to come together and know themselves, as young Balkan Jews.
I could ramble for hours, even days, about the amazing people I met, the food I shared, the stories I exchanged, the similarities I found in our cultures, languages, and habits. I’ll just mention the wine and ouzo, the tzatziki, and our collective love for keftes (meatballs) and dolmas. I think it is appropriate to summarize everything in a single short phrase: “This feels like home.”
This single event was enough to awaken the will inside me to contribute more. Right after it ended, I submitted my candidacy for our youth board elections, and I am happy to now be a substitute member of that body. The seminar showed me all the potential we have as a youth, and how we can use our special heritage and culture to come together in ways other people cannot. I am glad to say that there is a lot of passion in our team and willingness to drive our community forward.
Personally, I owe a big part of this to Junction.
In a world so keen on pointing out our differences, separating us, assigning labels, and turning us against each other, Balkan Multipliers was an oasis in the desert. It was extremely refreshing to connect with people not over our differences, but our similarities.
After all, sharing isn’t just about exchanging material objects; it’s also about culture, language and history. Even though we (usually) teach little children to share objects, many adults forget this lesson. It’s probably a good idea to start remembering how to do that.
In Greece, with what I’ve seen as a consistent rise in antisemitism over the past few decades, it’s more important than ever to remind young Jews that we are lucky to have strong communities around us. There are thousands of amazing people, many of whom could become your travel buddy, your next best friend, or even your lifelong partner.
We craved the Balkan Multipliers event –– we needed a space where we could come together and know ourselves as young Balkan Jews.
Life is unpredictable, and being able to bring people together is truly impactful. That’s definitely a cause I want to support in any way I can.
To all my Turkish, North Macedonian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Serbian, Romanian, and of course Greek friends, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this wonderful experience. And I appreciate Junction’s Mike Mendoza and Lela Sadikario, both of whom created an engaging program, striking the right balance between fun, education, and team-building and bonding. Everything we did contributed one way or another to our ultimate goal: to create something to unite young Balkan Jews, just like we had been connected by this seminar.
I encourage every young Jew in Europe to try and attend a Junction event. Whether you’re working in your local community full-time, or you’re barely involved and attending holidays once or twice a year, I can promise you that you will leave these events with a fresh outlook on your community, on your Jewish identity, and on your life.
As a recently elected board member of the Jewish Youth of Greece, Sam Mosios seeks to revitalize Jewish life amongst the youngest generation of Greek Jews. In addition to this work, Mosios studies software development at the New York College of Thessaloniki. He also enjoys immersing himself in fantasy role-playing games (RPGs), playing the piano, and exploring urban nature.