Shira Kaiserman’s blog

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Shira Kaiserman
The final day started with a tour of Budapest with our fabulous guide Aggy. She took us through the Jewish quarter and showed us metal markers on the sidewalk called “stumbling blocks” that indicate where a Jew was taken from their house. One can really get caught up in the beauty of this city and having these raised markers that you can literally trip over are harsh reminders of the city’s ugly past.

The highlight of the tour was see ing the beautiful Dohany Synagogue. If there weren’t Jewish stars covering it, you could mistake it for a great cathedral. Being so used to the modern architecture of synagogues in the States it was so awe inspiring to see one so ornately decorated. It made me think of how proud the Jews of Budapest must have been at that time to show off their Judaism wish such an in your face gorgeous house of worship.

After our tour with Aggy we visited the Israeli Cultural Institute. One of the purposes of the institute is to help foster a positive Jewish identity for the Jews in Budapest through Israeli culture. Many Jews in Europe have Jewish identities based on negative influences such as anti-Semitism and the Holocaust so the hope is that the Israeli culture will be a positive association for the Jews of Budapest. There is a large Israeli contingency within the Jewish community of Budapest who frequent the institute as well as non-Jews who are curious about Israel or learning Hebrew. The institute has been successful in bringing in both non-Jews and non-affiliated Jews through programming that is completely secular but has some tie into Israel without being too pushy.

The final stop for the day was at Balint Haz to meet with representatives from grassroots Jewish organizations such as Maccabi, Hillel, Haver Foundation, and Marom. Questions were raised about whether the same people are attending the different events within the Jewish community and if there is really a demand for more organizations or if it will just saturate the market.  The answer that the leaders of the Budapest Jewish community gave was that the more Jewish organizations available in Budapest the more avenues there will be to reach Jews in Budapest. This answer gave me hope and even more validation that the new Jewish ventures all the fellows are about to create are necessary and important for the Jewish community.

Following a sunset cruise of the Danube it was time for the wrap up and final evaluations for the seminar. All of the fellows shared their thoughts and personal reflections and it became a very emotional time for all of us. It was clear everyone felt a close connection to the group as a whole and that lifelong friendships had been formed.  It was comforting to know that as well as broadening our professional network we had also gained a new Jewish family. At the end of the night I think we all left feeling inspired and excited to take back to our communities what we’ve learned and to begin our projects. And there were no goodbyes, only להתראות…

Shira Kaiserman, JCC in Manhattan, New York, USA

Maxim Delchev’s blog

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Maxim Delchev

One of the most challenging things is how to relive the Jewish memory. We are trying as much as we can to go into the shoes of those before us and to understand their motivation and their story – to be like we just get out of Egypt.

So here we are in the center of Budapest in the lobby of this old Baroque hotel – the meeting point of so many Jewish memories around. When you step in this memory hotel you are feeling the atmosphere around. There is something in the air – at some moments you can feel enthusiastic and full with life, but just a blink and you feel the dark and heavy air. You can smell the air and you can easily become melancholic around it.

But we should look around us – who are sitting in that lobby? We can see an anonymous Jew. That Jew from the 13th century who dared to go to the king’s wedding on horse with a sword. We can see his pride and dignity – he cannot be convinced that the Jewish people are not safe in the old castle of Buda. But soon – very soon he will be surprised and his worldview will be destroyed. That is why we changed our look to some other table. There is that lonely man sitting in one of the corners. He is writing – and all of his papers are around. Some of that he is signing with his Hungarian name Tivdar, some of that – especially those columns for Neue Freie Presse he is signing with Theodor. Maybe he will never come back to Budapest again but soon his latest book will be there and will change a lot. His vision of a Jewish state will be transferred to so many others into the streets of Budapest.

Tivdar finished his writings and pleasantly gives the pen to a well-dressed diplomat sitting on the next table. He needs it to finish his correspondence. He has to write a brief report to the Swedish government – because he is travelling on their behalf. But he also has to write a big report to the president of the United States – about the situation of the Jews in Europe. Raoul must finish those reports very fast because there is more important job to do. He must write another 10 000 protecting letters today – it will save another 10 000 Jews from the death camps. Everybody loves to procrastinate and he can easily say:”I will do that tomorrow” – but he understands the urgency – that for many of those 10 000 tomorrow will never come.

We can see the bitterness in the air going to all of these memories. And finally we can see what is right in the middle of that lobby – there are those young people, sitting together and discussing the next children summer camp in Szarvas – they are discussing what we are supposed to teach our children. There are not only Hungarian on the table – but few Serbians, Bulgarians, Baltics, more than 25 countries are represented on that discussion and suddenly you can see the difference in the atmosphere. Everything is cheerful, event that the situation is not better than the situation of young Theodor Herzl before, there is a difference. The difference is that despite all problems and politics in the center of Hungarian Jewish memory today stands a group of devoted people, transmitting that Jewish feeling to the next generation. And this is the memory that I really like to relive over and over.

Maxim Delchev, ‘Shalom’, Sofia, Bulgaria

Alan Jaschkowitz’s blog

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Alan Jaschkowitz

We started the morning like all others, very exited to see what new stories and adventures Muki would get us into.

Everybody had a great breakfast at the Dan Panorama and even some of us went out on the dock to have a little morning run and by some of us, I don’t include myself, I was too busy enjoying the great buffet breakfast to be worrying about the few extra pounds I had gained in the past week in Jerusalem.

So after everybody was ready (and yes we had to wait for Pazit, although nobody seems to mind) we started our walking tour of the city through Neve Zedek, while Muki showed us the different buildings and their historical meanings. Even though I´ve been to Tel Aviv many times, this was the first time I really understood its background and history. How it was built up to be a modern city from the beginning in contrast to Jerusalem, taking into account new technologies for construction, water systems and especially making sure that the city would reflect a new generation of Jews and Israelis breaking apart from the traditional sense of Jewish life.

At the end of our walk around tour, we ended up in the Hall of Independence building for a short explanation and tour inside and it was really interesting to be inside the building where Israel first came to life.

After the tour we went for a great lunch (one of many) at Maganda so we could prepare for the next 3 hour PreseTense workshop on sales and fundraising as well as tools on how to pitch a project. I’m sure all of us had ideas on how to do this before the meeting but the tools provided helped in structuring and organizing this into a process of very easy-to-follow steps.

After the meeting, we had the chance of wrapping up what was the Israeli part of the trip, where everybody shared their thoughts as well as recommendations for future seminars. Incredibly enough the feeling of family ties that developed between us was something that nobody was expecting and at this meeting all those feelings and connections came out. That was AWESOME!!

Finally we had dinner at Regina’s just a few blocks away from the hotel at around 7 pm, which was as always accompanied by great food and even better company. After dinner everybody scattered back to the hotel cause we had to be up at 2.30 am for the flight to Budapest.

This I think was the perfect ending to a beautiful and meaningful trip to Israel, with the high hopes and expectations of what Budapest would bring.

Alan Jaschkowitz, CDI, Mexico City, Mexico

Jenny Spektor’s blog

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Jenny Spektor

A whole week – is it a lot or not?  Depends on what you’re doing all these days.  But if you’re traveling around Israel in a good company and explore your inner Jewishness – then it’s nothing.

Thus, on the 7th day of our learning, communicating, playing around, we came to Tel Aviv.  Tel Aviv – another heart of Israel that is so different from what one can see in Jerusalem.  If you want to learn what Tel Aviv is – just go walking around the shuk and there you will get it:  all tastes, colors, smells and sights that are totally Tel Aviv itself.  But if you want to learn the history and the main idea of Jewry both in Israel and Diaspora – come to Beit Hatfutsot/Museum of Jewish Peoplehood.

Museum, that for more than 30 years wasn’t changing at all, is now really in the middle of major renovation.  And it’s not just changing places of the exhibits but totally changing the concept of the museum. The question of Jews from all over the world stands other way now.  It’s not “who is a Jew” but probably more of “what is a Jew”.  It’s about every Jew and not only from Diaspora.  It’s about how every one of us participate in the past of our nation and what we can do for our common future.

My personal observation is that both Beit Hatfutzot and Yad Vashem Memorial are now changing their main idea.  If before that it was historical and emotional, now it’s more educational. Probably it’s due to new generation that is growing up now.  We need to educate them in all the Jewish questions in order to pass this all knowledge further on.  And this generation is not taking anything just through their heart but only mind.

But off from Museum concepts shifting so fast to exploring new tools of community management with PresenTense.  Michal Shimony did a really good job with presenting us new ways to go while building up a new venture. She was good even in driving our attention to the topic, and let me tell you, it’s not the easiest thing to do.

And as the time flows, the sun goes down into the sea to rest, our fellow Jews gather in the authentic club to listen to Israel classics in original performance.

Sadly enough, not only another day of the seminar comes to its end but so does our stay in Israel.  Just one more day and we’ll move on to Europe.  Will anything at all change?  Will we look differently on our backgrounds?  We’ll see it soon and still will be uncovering it for quite a long time.    But for present moment – we will just look forward the tour around Neve Tzedek with Muki and enjoying Israeli sun.

Jenny Spektor, Migdal JCC, Odessa, Ukraine

Wayne Greenberg’s blog

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Wayne Greenberg

The Jerusalem marathon took over the city today.  We were forced to trek through the cold, windblown rain instead of riding on a comfortable bus.  How apropos that this is the day that our seminar is being directed toward the period of the holocaust.

Our discussions with Rachel Korazim were not only educational, but inspirational.  Ms. Korazim wanted to transport us the best she could into the shoes of some of those who actually went through what we have learned about so many times.

As we arrived at Yad Vashem Memorial, the winds carried the rain down on our faces and clothing.  As we entered the main hall of Yad Vashem, we continued our transport into a time of our past that none of us want to think about.  We began by looking at pre-WWII Europe.  The memorial begins to lack natural light throughout the galleries, as we head on a downward grade towards the lowest point in the museum.  By the time our group arrives at the work and death camps, we each come to the realization that the potential for our demise is before each and every one of us.  I have been to this memorial before.  Each time I come lends an alternative was of looking at what transpired to my people.  As we read, watch and listen to the testimony of the true witnesses, I find myself crying.  Crying about what we could have done to prevent this.  Crying about how we could prevent this from happening again.  We cannot help but see the utter differences between all that were thrown together into a true melting pot of horrific and what one would normally construe as unspeakable acts.  Our group is comprised of very different men and women from around the world. We each have very different mechanisms of connecting to G-d and to the communities we serve.  However, we also realize that each of us comes from Argentina, Bulgaria, Israel, Mexico, Russia, United States and Ukraine, Odessa.  There is a piece of world in each and every one of us.  We all make up the Jewish community.  We are all in this together. Only through constant worldwide collaboration will Jewish “Peoplehood” survive.

Wayne Greenberg, The JCC of Staten Island, New York, USA

Dovy Singal’s blog

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Dov Signal

We are one nation, one people, one family, so why is it so hard for us to unite as one culture and one peoplehood?
Masada:
Masada is perhaps one of the most well-known and famous sites for people from all cultures to visit.  Propped just above the lowest place on earth and positioned amongst a beautiful and picturesque desert wasteland, Masada represents struggle and persecution on one side and strength of the Hebrew character as well as perseverance on the other. The tragic and heroic story of the historical site provides a backdrop for an exciting and meaningful dialogue.  A dialogue that presents conflict between values, realities, visions, pride and shame.  Masada has been for years and may continue to be one of the pivotal points for Jews traveling Israel.  The site unites all types of Jews and allows for a multi-cultural narrative accessible to all.   Each group, or even individuals, approaches the site and its meanings from his/her point of view and can appreciate the messages of the dialogue there.  For me, Masada brought up questions of a changing narrative amongst modern Jews.  How can we bring people to unify around a common bond and realize that collaboration and cooperation will yield a mutual benefit even greater than the sum of its parts?

Alon/ Ein Prat:

Cross-denominational and collaborative Jewish dialogue may very well be the solution to many conflicts facing the Jewish people today.  As a unified people-hood, if we can unite as members of a joint culture, we can offer a response to the biggest threats facing the Jewish world.  Apathy and assimilation are on their way to decimating the Jewish people.  Cross-denominational dialogue or the crossing of people, with different observance levels or observance styles, in a dialogue, can realistically start to solve the splicing of Jewish unity while strengthening the identity of all sides. Often people are concerned about exposing their own views to opposition or exposing their character to criticism.  Instead of truly listening to opposing views, too often people are seeking out the cracks in those opposing views in order to exploit them and strengthen their own perspective.  The real question is, how do we explain to people, who are not already invested in the idea of a collaborative Jewish reality or a cooperative Jewish narrative, that appreciating the advantages and importance of a communal Jewish dialogue?

Tie-in:

In the context of the WCJCC Global Jewish Connection Fellows, the foundations of said dialogue are perfect.  The commitment of the Jewish Fellows presents an almost natural and immediate attraction to a collaborative Jewish dialogue.  Young leaders from around the world, with a range of Jewish, academic, cultural and philosophical backgrounds, with a variety of observance styles, places a perfect foundation for a successful and meaningful surgence of a renewed Jewish peoplehood.  Nearing the middle of our seminar, the potential can already be recognized and, for me, a new sense of hope for the global Jewish community has been born.

Dovy Singal, East Talpiot Community Center, Jerusalem, Israel

Ezequiel Hajnal’s blog

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Meeting the Communities

Ezequiel Hajnal

Being Jewish is not easy, but it is our way of being.

We have done it successfully for over 3000 years, and will continue to do it. But this does not mean we have not changed. We have transformed our understanding about “What being Jewish” means throughout our whole history.

Change is part of our means of survival. Our ability as a People to adapt to different circumstances permitted us to survive in exile, not once, but twice. Creating new mechanisms to continue educating our same values, telling our same stories, and living under the same code of ethics. Today it is no different than yesterday in this sense.

It is today that we need to find the new changes that still need to be done, the new mechanisms that will help us survive as the Jewish People. Today was a time to learn about how they do this in Israel.

The Taub Center

Professor Dan Ben-David, from the Taub Center gave us a quick idea of what is going on in Israel in terms of socio-economic numbers, helping us figure out where things have been improving and where there is still a long way to go. What was very clear is that Ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities are having separate statistic figures than the rest of the country. Which raises a few questions: are they part of the same Jewish State of Israel? Should they be? In such case, how can we include them?

The JCCs

It was only later that we were able to translate these numbers into a reality, when we had the opportunity to split into smaller groups to visit local community centers. It was surprising for us “Diaspora Jews” to see that there is no emphasis on Jewish Identity. Their answer sounded something like this: “Who needs to be reminded that he/she is a Jew, when he/she lives in Israel?” They do have a point as at our JCCs many times we’re trying to bring the Jewish Identity to our member’s daily life, to their way of living, to their identities… Who needs to be reminded they are Jewish if they live in the corner of Hillel and Rabi Akiva? If their whole society is celebrating Pesach and Yom Kippur? If practically any person you meet is some you can take to your parents and introduce as a “nice Jewish boy/girl”?

The New Organizations

It was then time to visit the new organizations, the new social characters of the Jewish World, those who try to bring diversity, those who show new ways of being Jewish. The Open House for Pride and Tolerance, Hitorerut and Yad Sarah. They are here to tell us that there are new Jewish issues that did not exist some years ago. That there is always change in our communities, and that it is our responsibility as Jewish Leaders to adapt to this changes. And these things are not only happening in Jerusalem, they are happening all over the Jewish World. We also share our problems, like the relation with those Jews who are not able to recognize their own brothers as Jews just because their practice their Jewish Being differently.

In the end, we are here to learn. We are here to understand that we are the same People, that we share many problems. But most of all, we are here to find solutions. To share our local experiences as Jews to find Global Solutions for our Jewish World.

I don’t expect this to be easy, but I accept the Challenge.

Ezequiel Hajnal, Lamroth Hakol Synagogue/JCC, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Jenny Spektor’s blog

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Jenny Spektor

Jerusalem.­­­­­­­­­­­­­ Place of unity, compass of the world Jewry.  Wherever I come here I get new impressions and emotions.  Every time there’s something new for me but still the feeling of coming to the place where all Jews want to come remain. But this time, coming to Jerusalem with the Global Jewish Connections fellows from all over the world made it more special, more interesting and touchier.

Just try to imagine 13 people of approximately same age but totally different background. Folks coming from US, Israel, Mexico, Argentina, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Russia to Jerusalem to share their experience and learn from each other.  The very air of the Holy City gives the energy and desire to figure what is it we all have in common and what makes us different, Jews from various countries, religious and not, married and single, etc.

Like our guide, Muki, told us, Jerusalem is like an onion:  you pill it piece by piece and in the end you cry.  This time I personally didn’t cry exactly because of the pilling off the levels.  And not only the levels of Jerusalem’s history but the layers of Jewish heritage and memories from my fellows.  Do we look different? – Slightly.  So we speak different languages in our everyday life – yes.  Do we all talk about what it’s like to be a Jew and what we feel about Israel – for sure yes.  We may speak Spanish or Chinese, wear a kipah or not, fast on Yom-Kippur or not, but our identity as a Jew is here letting us all understand each other.

We do not know with what feeling and thoughts our meeting will end but what I’m sure about so far is that I do have a big Jewish mishpuha in the whole world.  What it means to me? Probably, that I will never be alone at any place of this planet.

Jenny Spektor, Migdal JCC, Odessa, Ukraine