Spring Break Bulgaria, 2013
Potatoes + Onions = Latkas! Together with the student coordinator, we planned a latka activity at the Jewish students club in Belgrade, which is supported by the JDC. We made latkas from scratch and fried them using a portable camping gas stove! We don’t always have all of the proper materials here but we always find ways to improvise! here is the recipe we used! http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Potato-Latkes-104406
a pre- Chanukah activity in Novi Sad!
Yesterday evening I traveled to Novi Sad, the second largest city in Serbia, located in a northern region set on the Danube River. The Jewish community in Novi Sad is small in number but strong in spirit and inspiration. Communities in Serbia have built their kids programs based on an informal education model, so developing an activity allowed me to tap my creativity and share what I love best, baking!
With 16 kids from ages 0 to 15, some mothers, and the director of the Kids programs and her daughter, we taught the children the four different Hebrew letters on the Dreidel and explained their meaning for playing the game Dreidel. We also had the older kids explain to the younger kids the story of Chanukah and the meaning behind Nes Gadol Hayah Sham. Then we gave each group the materials to make cookie dough that they could then use to shape in the form of Hebrew letters Nun, Gimel, Hei, & Shin. We did not foresee that when the cookies would come out of the oven, they would have all melted together!
Everyone had a great time! Even the mothers, who had initially sat back, slowly came to the group and stated to participate. It turned out that they had crazy cookie shaping skills to offer us! It was truly a wonderful experience for me. Having worked in Jewish communities for over two years now in Germany and most recently in Serbia, I’ve never walked into a community blindly and alone before and been immediately welcomed.
The community holds weekly kids program from 5pm to 7pm, every Sunday evening. It is obvious that the families who come really care about their children’s Jewish identity as I am sure this is not the most convenient time as Sunday evening the week is ending and everything for the next week has already started to arrive in full force. In Serbia Jews make an active decision to be Jewish every day, every week and every year. There is not the structure or institutions in place that we are so familiar with in the US, which allow us to be Jewish in all aspect of our life and in society, with very little effort or thought required. Although I have a lot to give this year, I also have a lot to learn.
More to come on Chanukah events from Serbia!
JDC wrote an article on my time and work in Germany from 2010 to 2012.
I lived in Germany for two years working with Jewish immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, who in the last 20 years moved to Germany and began for the first time to rediscover their Jewish identity.
Aufweidersehen Deutschland und дочекати Serbia!
It was really hard to leave Germany. Over the past two year, Germany became my home and my friends there became my family. I could have never imagined finding such amazing roommates over the internet that would grow to be like brothers. I learned more in Germany about myself than I ever imagined, as I was challenged in ways that I had never been tested before. I had several high points, followed by low points, which have made me the stronger individual that I am today.
Although I arrived just 3 weeks ago, I am still a spring chicken in these parts. Three weeks ago I packed up my life in Germany and moved to Belgrade, Serbia to continue working for the JDC. I will be living in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, for one year, working for the JDC on their programs in Belgrade and in smaller Jewish communities around Serbia. I will also have the opportunity to work on some JDC JRegions initiatives that take place throughout the year.
Since my arrival on October 1st, 2012, I have been all over. Two and half days after I arrived, I set off on a night train to Sofia, Bulgaria with the leaders of the Belgrade youth club. The youth club is a JDC funded project that supports informal Jewish programming for kids, teenagers, and young adults in the Belgrade Jewish community. In Sofia we attended a JRegions weekend-long regional initiative meeting for young leaders from Balkan countries.
The train ride down was anything less than bumpy, ridiculous, and loads of fun! As expected, we met tons of nice strangers and I even had the unique opportunity of watching smugglers stuff cigarettes into the ceiling of the train! I, being naïve and new to the area, assumed the guy was fixing the lights; however, I later learned when we were stopped at the border for 5.5 hours that the train was really a smugglers express paradise…!
The meeting in Sofia was a great learning experience as I met Jewish leaders from almost every major Balkan community. Listening to people’s ideas and impressions gave me my first look into the needs and realities of Balkan Jewry.
After the Seminar the Belgrade team and I stayed to meet local community staff from the Sofia community to exchange ideas and learn about each other programs. The meetings also added to my understanding of JDC’s role and what Jewish life is today in the Balkans. It was interesting for me to learn about the different directions that these two communities had taken and why. The Belgrade youth club remains an informal center and the Sofia youth center has become a formal institution. Despite their proximity and sharing a border, the Serbian and Bulgarian Jewish communities have taken different approaches to developing Jewish life and community. I know very little about Balkan Jewish communities and I look forward this year to learning more and sharing my experiences.
3.5 days after arriving back from Sofia, we (members of the community and I) road-tripped almost 7 hours to Sarajevo, for an EX. Yugoslavian Inter-club Meeting! You are probably wondering what that is, as I was too! Every few months Ex. Yugoslavian Jewish communities organize a weekend of informal activities for young adults from 18 to 35. Jews from all over Serbia, Bosnia and Macedonia came! Similar to the notion that I picked up on in Germany, while working with Jews from the FSU, because Jewish life was for so long restricted to the community and not a part of the home family life, people today are attracted to experiences that allow them to contact and connect with other Jews. Although there may be little or no Jewish content present, the want for connection and sense of community is high.
In the mean time I have been adjusting well to life in Belgrade. I can say for certain that people here love to enjoy life and there is a very relaxed atmosphere. Belgrade is a pretty normal city beside the “expected nuances….”
More impressions to come!
If you are not familiar with Limmud, it is a place…
- where Jews of all religious and political backgrounds meet to learn, discuss and celebrate together
- where you can expect to meet Jews who are different from you
- where you can learn something new, whether you know nothing or you are a rabbi or professor
- where participants themselves decide what they want to learn, and what they want to teach
- where you can offer a presentation on any Jewish theme in which you have expertise
- where you can attend or offer workshops in German, English or Russian
- where there is room for the broad diversity of Jewish topics: religion, tradition, politics, society, literature, art, music and more
- where everyone of all ages is welcome!
This past Limmud was a four day long festival in the center of Berlin. People, Families, and groups across Germany and Europe came to take part in the festivities. In all, more than 500 people attended. At Limmud I had the pleasure of meeting and learning from inspiring scholars on a wide variety of subjects. I also got to present myself! I led three sessions- the first on the high school boarding school I attended, the American Hebrew Academy, another on the Zadenu project, a JDC project in Germany that I helped to create last year that connects bar and bat mitzvah students from Germany and the USA and I led an informal session with Yahel (my JSC partner in action) for young adults to “chill” and to get to know each other.
Above is Ruth Calderon giving a workshop at Limmud. She is the founder of the Alma Institute in Tel Aviv, which promotes Hebrew culture through Beit Midrash study. Ruth led two incredible sessions at Limmud. Her ability to translate Torah and Midrash and at the same time remain engaging was inspiring. During her session, I was reminded of the importance of Hebrew culture and literature in order to maintain and strengthen my Jewish identity, as she pushed us to understand the relevance in Jewish and Hebrew sources in the context of our own lives today.
Here is a picture of the Bambinim Familyclub kids program.
On Shabbat morning at Limmud, a Jewish walking tour was offered in and around downtown Berlin. One of the first stops on our tour was right behind us, literally, as you turned away from the Limmud entrancement. I hadn’t noticed the memorial because it was an empty space… that clearly my mind accepted as normal, as there are many empty bombed-out spaces in Berlin from WW2. In Berlin, memorials have a reputation of being inconspicuousness; they are there, although they are not always immediately conscious in thought or in sight, even if you are looking head on. What you see in the picture below is an empty space, a place where a family apartment building was before the Second World War. This memorial remembers anyone who lived in the building. The artist researched the families who lived in the building before it was destroyed and made signs for each family and arranged them according to which floor the family had lived on. Many memorials in Berlin are not meant to be intrusive, they are designed to be thoughtful and poignant, catching the eye when you least expect it.
Jewish Lesbians, Treblinka & Miniskirts, do you have any idea what I am getting at?
Probably not…. as neither did I and that was just the introduction…
I was praying that anyone slightly conservative or square would have already been deterred from the workshop’s title, “I Knew Nothing: Tales of a Clueless Jew,” and would have otherwise chosen the exciting reading on Родовое кольцо перчатка А.С. Пушкина Мифы и легенды or Man ist viel zu früh jung…. Since most our participants are over the age of 60 and Russian, there was not much reason to worry.
She was loud, lewd and provocative with her words, as her stream of consciousness retells her life through a funky Jewish lens. After living in Germany for a year, it is easy to forget how much I love to hear and indulge in unrefined banter… I had the pleasure to work with Susan Jane Gilman, author of Undress me in the Temple of Heaven, Hypocrite in Pouffy White Dress, and Kiss my Tiara. Susan was one of many authors invited to do a reading at a recent book festival I helped to organize in the Duisburg Jewish community in Germany.
For Jews and non-Jews alike, Susan’s voice is a fresh breath and a new perspective of what it means to be Jewish today. She is honest and undeterred even by exposing herself during her lowest of lows. As she read from her book, Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, a collections of memories that speak to the most feverish highs, lows, and defining points of her life, I couldn’t help but think Hell! this woman has guts and I can’t get enough of her! Hearing her hash out many of the experiences that usually don’t make it into conversation was not just hysterical but inspiring. Having read her book prior, I felt as though everything she was reciting I had known and felt and at the same time was bursting with excitement to relay my own similar experiences. For me, especially living in Germany, it doesn’t happen often that I find myself in the company of stranger who feels far from strange…
As Susan clarified many times, being clueless can be a natural state of being or unconscious recurrences in life. Society convinces us that we should always pretend we are aware and never to expose our vulnerable moments, particularly the times when we fall hard. Susan let it all out, the good, the bad, and the ugly. She reminded me of the importance of doing so, as we are all human and definitely far from perfect. Everyone does stupid things and at some point in life you have to embrace it and laugh about it. Too many times in life we are convinced to remain clueless, uniformed, and simply neutral, by doing so we miss out on having a Voice and letting it be heard.
Our Voices are the greatest tools for change.