Below is an excerpt from an online diary that JDC Ambassador Society member David Lefkowitz kept during the February 2017 Ambassadors trip to Central Russia, giving a sense of the adventure and the meaning of this journey.
We left Moscow at the crack of dawn this morning and headed out for a trek to the edge of Siberia to a town called Yekaterinburg. There are about 62,000 Jews in this rural central region of Russia, which comprises about 20% of Russia’s territory. This includes some 11,000 elderly Jews (many of whom are Holocaust survivors) that JDC supports with food, shelter, and medical assistance. JDC is also active in helping organize and sustain the Jewish community, including a variety of youth programs.
As soon as we arrived to this town, we immediately went out to a remote area deep in the woods, with snow and cold all around, to meet with a group of 70 Jewish high school and college students who have been active in sustaining and revitalizing the community way out in this remote part of Russia. We were invited to spend a few hours and dinner with them today at their leadership training retreat. What a privilege.
These kids were so impressive, they are smart, dynamic, articulate, passionate and proud to be Jewish and Russian. They feel especially privileged to be Jewish. We went out into the cold and snowy woods with them to do some team building exercises. We learned a lot including what daily life is like, and what their hopes and plans are. We also sampled their local Jewish foods; and then we sang and did some ceremonies together. It was pretty campy in a spectacularly moving way.
We couldn’t help but be struck by what a small world it is that we could be this many miles away and spending time with an incredibly impressive group of youth who passionately share exactly the same values and culture we do — in a country that is otherwise so different from our own. There was one part that was particularly moving. We all took little clay oil lamps, filled them with oil and wicks, and then lit them one by one. Each lamp lit the another (about 100 in all) until they were all lit, and then in the still of the cold Siberian night, we sang songs together in Hebrew about a bright future of peace, where each of these kids could achieve their potential. With all the craziness going on in the world today, meeting these kids and knowing our own nieces and nephews and many of your kids as well as we do, we couldn’t help but feel a bit of optimism.
Tonight may be the highlight so far of what has been one amazing experience after another.
More information on JDC Ambassadors travel and events can be found at jdc.org/letsgo