Voices from the Far Side of the World

Voices from the Far Side of the World

One of the most powerful things we can do as members of the global Jewish community is share stories, both our own and others’. That’s why we’re launching the new JDC Voices, a space where you can hear from members of the JDC family — staff, volunteers, clients, donors, and friends from all over the world. Discover what Jewish life is like in the small but proud communities of Asia and Latin America; let the next generation of leaders tell you what Judaism means to them; receive wisdom from Jews who’ve lived through impossible hardship; or get the latest on-the-ground reports from our disaster relief experts.

There’s no more fitting way to start than with a story we received from JDC Board member Amir Halevy. Amir is a member of a photography group called Jdocu, Israeli philanthropists committed to documenting acts of hesed (loving kindness) and tikkun olam (repairing the world), as well as daily life, in the most far-flung reaches of the Jewish world.

Amir and Jdocu recently returned from a moving and thought-provoking journey to Russia’s far east — “the end of the world,” as Amir described it, “where the weather is harsh, and travel time seems endless.”

A kindergarten class

The trip was a tour of the entire spectrum of Jewish life in Siberia — from the youngest to the oldest. Amir and the rest of the Jdocu group celebrated Shabbat with the young people of the local Hillel, brought food to those in need, and baked challah. They sat in on kindergarten classes where children of parents who’d been denied their Jewish heritage now learn about Jewish holidays and study Yiddish as a second language. Joining a singalong with a local choir, Amir was amazed to discover that the songs they were singing were the same ones he’d sung as a boy scout in Israel. It was a wonderful moment of connection between Jews from opposite sides of the world.

But the most powerful experiences of the trip were the visits to the homes of the elderly Jews — many of them Holocaust survivors — JDC serves. Amir had the opportunity to spend time with Sofia, who lives in a small village on the road between Khabarovsk and Birobidzhan. Sofia’s son is separated from his wife, and so today, at age 70, she is raising her three grandchildren. The beauty of Jdocu is that Amir was able to bring the spirit of his time with Sofia back with him. His photos capture their love and optimism, and, in a small but meaningful way, brings the far side of the world just a little bit closer.

Sofia and her three grandchildren