Through Trips with JDC Entwine, Learning About Global Jewish Resilience

Dan Brotman's trips with JDC Entwine — to India, Nepal, and virtually to Morocco — have given him a master class in global Jewish resilience, offering lessons he plans to apply to his Canadian Jewish life.

By Dan Brotman - Executive Director, Windsor Jewish Federation & Community Centre | April 9, 2021

I’ve always considered myself to be a citizen of the world, and I pride myself on feeling at home just about anywhere. Though I’m from the Boston area, my friends joke that I’m a “professional immigrant,” because  I’ve moved countries three times in my adult life — first to Israel, then to South Africa, and most recently, to Canada.

The South African Jewish community is renowned for being highly organized and affiliated, but its remoteness from other major centers of Jewish life means that formal programs, like the trips I took with JDC Entwine, were some of the most important avenues for me to keep my finger on the pulse of what was happening in the wider Jewish world. It was on one of these trips that I started to really explore how Jewish communities everywhere can cultivate a stronger future.

Dan Brotman poses for a photo at his South African citizenship ceremony in 2018.

In 2015, I participated in an Entwine Insider Trip to India. In an article I wrote following that trip, I described the unique history of India’s Jewish community and how it has shrunk from 30,000 members on the eve of that country’s independence in 1947, to only several thousand today. Traveling in Mumbai and beyond, I was impressed with the wide range of JDC-supported communal programming we visited, which serve as a crucial support system for many, given India’s limited social safety net. Still, given that so many Indian Jews had left the country for better economic and educational opportunities, I was curious about how the community planned to preserve its unique history and culture. 

We visited some of the local Jewish community’s historic institutions, which now serve a much smaller population than when they were established. We met young Indian Jews who were ambivalent about their future in India, though there are many passionate young leaders, too — particularly the dynamic young men and women of the JDC-supported Jewish Youth Pioneers initiative. Talk of migration came up frequently. This was similar to conversations I’d had with my fellow group members from Eastern Europe  on my 2018 Entwine trip for global Jewish leaders to Nepal, some of whom subsequently emigrated and others who have taken on more active roles in their home communities.

My years in South Africa and my JDC Entwine trips to India and Nepal have helped me answer that question of ‘How do we strengthen Jewish communities?’

I recently immigrated to Windsor, Ontario — a city of 200,000, located just one bridge away from Detroit, Michigan. The Windsor Jewish community peaked at 3,000 in the 1930s; today, it’s down to 1,200 members. It retains institutions from its heyday, including a large Jewish Community Centre (JCC), a kosher restaurant, and three synagogues, despite no longer having three congregations. Part of what excited me about Windsor was the prospect of strengthening the Jewish community through launching a newcomer program, in partnership with the city, that proactively markets Windsor as an attractive place to live for skilled immigrants who wish to move to Canada, and remote workers looking to move out of large and expensive cities. My years in South Africa and my JDC Entwine trips to India and Nepal have helped me answer that question of “How do we strengthen Jewish communities?” Here, in Windsor, we hope to do it with an innovative program that attracts people from all over the world, welcomes them, and integrates them into our community.

Windsor isn’t the only city considering this strategy to replenish its ranks. The Jewish communities of Winnipeg and Halifax were shrinking, but they partnered with their provincial governments to attract Jewish immigrants from across the world. Today, these new arrivals represent a substantial proportion of both communities. I believe that 2021 should be the year that Windsor’s Jewish community cultivates a strong and bright future. We, too, can strengthen our community by attracting people from all over the world, people with diverse skill-sets and experiences. 

Dan Brotman poses for a photo at the Jewish cemetery in Asmara, Eritrea in 2020.

My travels with JDC Entwine and my decade in South Africa have demonstrated to me two key truths. First, young Jews are always on the move, seeking new opportunities and new experiences. Second, all Jewish communities are worthy of our celebration and support.

I loved diving into that in India, and I was struck by how clearly that came across even online during my recent JDC Entwine Virtual Insider Trip to Morocco, where — despite a pandemic that kept my cohort at home in the Detroit area and far from Casablanca — I found another unique and resilient Jewish community adapting to changing demographic realities with hope, faith, and new ideas.

Every Jewish community has something to offer. I can’t wait to show the world what Windsor is made of. 

Dan Brotman is the new executive director of the Windsor Jewish Federation & Community Centre in Ontario, Canada. He spent the past decade living in South Africa, where he worked in the local Jewish community and subsequently co-founded an educational travel start-up.

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