JDC: In Service

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

We’ve moved!

Check out our new digs at http://jdcentwine.org. Blog: http://jdcentwine.org/blog.

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

JDC Jewish Service Corps Mid-Year Seminar

The 2011-12 JDC Jewish Service Corps Fellows in Israel this week

In Israel, our 25 JDC Jewish Service Corps (JSC) Fellows are participating in the annual JDC JSC Mid-Year Seminar.

The Mid-Year Seminar is an opportunity for Fellows to discuss their year of service, educate others on the needs existing in their host community, develop new skills, and interact with and learn from their cohort of Fellows.

This year, as part of the Mid-Year Seminar, our Fellows performed service at a JDC-supported community garden in Lod. Below are a couple pictures from their time volunteering at the garden.

Ayal, Sarah, Heather and Sivanne in the garden

Jimmy and Miki hard at work in the garden

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Passover with an Urban Twist in Argentina

By Katina Rajunov

Katina Rajunov is a JDC Jewish Service Corps Fellow serving in Buenos Aires, Argentina this year.

Pesaj Urbano in Buenos Aires, Argentina

The streets of Buenos Aires are known for their trendy cafés, fashion boutiques, and beautiful plazas.

And on the Sunday before Passover began, Plaza Armenia in the hip Palermo Soho district was completely transformed – with crumbs of matzah on the floor, children fishing for baskets with “baby Moses,”and a general aura of festivity.

This transformation was all part of the annual Pesaj Urbano celebration, courtesy of a JDC project called YOK – “Judaism your way”- a program I have worked on as a JDC Jewish Service Corps Fellow these past months.

* * *

The idea of bringing Jewish content to the streets of Buenos Aires sets YOK’s activities apart, and attracts a large segment of the Jewish population that is not affiliated to any communal organization.

Every year the JDC staff strive to create a space where people can connect to Judaism through art, music, food and games. For many, this gathering offers them the opportunity to re-connect with their Jewish identity and find new avenues to explore.

JDC’s insight into the makeup of the community helped staff identify the large segment of the Jewish community that sought a new space to shape their Jewish life. Now in its 13th edition (there is also an Urbano hosted for Rosh Hashanah) Pesaj Urbano has become a Passover tradition for many families in Buenos Aires.

* * *

Strolling down the street, the banners of “matzah” hanging high in the air might have caught your eye and opened up your appetite, influencing most to start the day by the food stands where you could find all kinds of Jewish delicacies.

Further down the street, artisans offered up their Passover best, including beautiful seder plates, paintings, and other crafts.

All along the streets free samples of matzah were available to ensure that everyone’s digestive system could start prepping for the week to come. Musical interludes from local bands prompted Israeli dancing on the streets, while children had the opportunity to participate in an array of Passover-themed games.

On the other side of the block you could find those seeking some intellectual enrichment on themes that included contemporary definitions of freedom and liberty and Passover then and now.

One thing that set this stage apart: it was shared by a female rabbi, an Orthodox male rabbi, and numerous academics. Given the diverse landscape of the Jewish community of Buenos Aires in terms of observance and affiliation, shared spaces and discussions are rare. This unique forum is part of the openness and plurality that YOK strives to offer, granting everyone the opportunity to define his or her Jewish identity for themselves.

As I get ready to follow my Bobe’s matzo ball recipe to celebrate Passover far from home, I appreciate the importance of “transmitting” the story of Passover more than ever. Whether it is on the streets of Buenos Aires, at home with family, or next year in Jerusalem, may our people continue to remember our departure from Egypt while embracing our freedom and bringing light unto the world.

Chag Pesach Kasher V’Sameach!!!

Want to see Argentina’s Jewish community first-hand? Travel with JDC on Inside Jewish Argentina this summer! More here.

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

JDCu@Tufts University Looks at Passover Around the World

Last night, approximately 70 students at Tufts University joined JDCu@Tufts to learn about Passover traditions from around the world at a Passover Community Dinner at Tufts Hillel. Discussions were led by guest speakers representing the Jewish communities of Turkey, Russia, and Morocco. The evening was spearheaded by Tufts students who traveled to Argentina on a JDC Short-Term Service Trip in 2011.  Pictures from the evening are below.

Want to start JDCu on your campus? Email globalservice@jdcny.org for more info.

The 2011 Tufts Hillel group!

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Changing lives in Romania

Israel Sabag, Director of JDC Romania, reflects on the visit of the Texas Hillels group to Romania in March.

When asked what the group enjoyed most during their visit, they mentioned the impressive renovation of the home of Iuliana Teodorescu, a Jewish woman of 64 years old, living in harsh conditions in her run down house in Timisoara.

Here are the participants before the renovation, when the students were still working hard at painting, removing furniture and bringing new things, like a fridge and a sofa.

The youngsters were also supported by members of the local Jewish community. After a great effort from everybody, the job was finished (miraculously) just 1 hour before Shabbat started. One of the students put a Mezuzah on the door post and everybody sang “Simen Tov u Mazal Tov.”

Mrs. Teodorescu thanked the group in the most touching way ” I never received a present like this in my life. In one week I will be 64 and you gave me the most incredible gift that I can imagine!”

And indeed, who could imagine that just after a few hours of work, the house looked like this:

Such stories prove once again how great the advantages of this kind of initiatives are on both sides and how much the communities in Romania benefit a boost of energy and strength from young people all around the world.


Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

From Experience to Action: Why we are raising money to fund the future

Ofek students in Kiryat Malachi

By Danielle Pomeraniec

We sat in a room with 20 Ethiopian teenagers. All, at one time, had been failing school. Each one had their own background and unique challenges.

They also had a story of hope.

They told us how, recently, they were given an opportunity. That one extra lesson. The one extra teacher. The one extra guidance counselor.

And now these same teenagers were excelling at the highest levels.

This is the Ofek L’bagrut program.

Ofek is an after-school program across Israel that provides immigrant teenagers with tutoring for their matriculation exams. We visited an Ofek program in Kiryat Malachi that specifically serviced Ethiopian-Israeli students.

We observed tutoring sessions and sat down with students who told us how Ofek helped them. It was inspiring to hear how teenagers, whose parents were not educated in Israel and many of who do not speak Hebrew fluently, consistently improved their exam scores once they entered Ofek. These scores are very important as they affect students’ abilities to qualify for higher education opportunities as well as their placement in the army.

In November 2011, I went with a group of young professionals seeking to get a deeper glimpse into Israel through the work of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

JDC’s role in Israel is to provide social services to vulnerable communities so that they can participate in and contribute to Israeli society. During our time in Israel, we visited various programs ran by, in part or entirely, by JDC.

Among those programs we visited were a job bank servicing the Haredi community (ultra-Orthodox), a once isolated community, so that they can contribute to the Israeli economy; an early childhood education and development center servicing Arab-Israelis; a groundbreaking elementary education program focused specifically on nutrition; a community garden which serves as a social outlet to the senior immigrant women who tend to it; and an organization that provides refugees and asylum seekers with humanitarian and psychosocial services.

All of the programs were powerful. We were particularly struck by Ofek.

What really moved me were the similarities between what many Jewish families went through not too long ago (including my own) and what Ethiopian immigrants in Israel are going through today.

Seeking a land where they can practice Judaism freely and openly, Ethiopians face daily challenges in seamlessly integrating into Israeli society. The teenagers who receive assistance from Ofek are the future of Israel. Without Ofek, these Ethiopian-Israelis will continue to stay on the fringes of society – straining resources.

By assisting Ethiopian-Israeli teenagers in studying for their matriculation exams, Ofek is empowering teenagers to obtain scholastic achievement, which will open doors for them economically.

On Tuesday, April 3rd, we will be hosting an open bar event at Pop Pub (41 East 11th Street) to raise funds for Ofek L’Bagrut. Our goal is to raise $25,000.

With a gift of $25,000 we will enable the Ofek program to provide crucial learning support and empowerment to 130 youth from different schools in the city. This assistance will include group activities and accompaniment by a counselor during the last three years of high school.

In addition, Ofek will maintain ongoing contact with participants’ parents and schools to further their progress and ensure their successful graduation.

As a Jew, I feel a responsibility to look after Israel’s future. This is just one small way that I can help.

Please join us next Tuesday at Pop Pub to show support for this great program. Tickets are only $36 for as many drinks as you can handle!

And, even if you can’t make it, donations are always welcome. Tickets can be purchased and donations can be made at http://jdc.org/fundthefuture.

Thank you for your time and support!

Monday, March 19th, 2012

We’re Hiring! Are You Our West Coast Program Specialist?

We’re looking for our first west coast staff person. This position will support the growth of our local Learning Networks, as well as the on-going involvement of the growing number of JDC program alumni in California. The position is based in San Diego, CA.

Full job description and application information can be found here.

All available positions at JDC can be found here.

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Pictures from the JDC-Pursue Service Trip to Israel

As part of the JDC-Pursue Service Trip to Israel, participants visited two schools in Tel Aviv that feature high percentages of children of foreign workers, refugees, and asylum seekers. During these visits, participants worked with the students to explore issues of identity through art projects and creative expression.


Art Project at the Hayarden School

At the Bialik Rogozin school

Group shot at the Hayarden School in Tel Aviv

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Liz Fine: Why You Should Care About Moscow’s Jewish Community

Liz Fine (above, at a JDC young leaders training program in Moscow) served as a JDC Jewish Service Corps Fellow in Moscow from 2010-11. She currently works as JDC’s Director of International Relations and Development in JDC’s Moscow Representative Office.

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been living in Moscow – initially as a JDC Jewish Service Corps Fellow, now as a full-time JDC employee – for about 18 months now.

18 months ago, I didn’t know what a hesed is. What a “patronage” worker is. Who is Gretta.

18 months ago, I was a newcomer, a visitor, a stranger, a first-timer.

Today, Moscow is my home, my community, my family.

Today, I visit heseds several times a month. I’ve met more patronage workers than I can name, and Gretta never fails to greet me with a hug and a kiss.

“Liza – are you OK? You look a little tired,” she says. At 70-something, the director of Chesed Chamah has more energy than I had at 18. My Jewish Russian babushka.

Unfortunately, sometimes we take our families for granted. We forget just how special they are.

Sometimes, it takes a group of outsiders to remind us of the miracle that we have in front of us.

Sometimes, it takes a group of visitors to make you stop and think about how our extraordinary our work is.

* * * * *

JDC returned to the Former Soviet Union just over 20 years ago.

The Soviet Union began to fall, and JDC saw a window to re-enter the region. We didn’t know when it would close, so we were going to go in and do what we could for as long as we could. We would reconnect Jews to their Jewish souls.

One thing we thought we knew – we weren’t going to do welfare. We didn’t think there would be a need. It was a socialist country, we knew everyone was “equally poor,” but we thought basic needs were being met.

And then we got here, and we saw.

The queues. The hunger. The loneliness. And we knew we had to do something about it. So, in partnership with the Jewish Federations of North America and other partners around the world, we looked for a way to help.

We imported food from Europe, on trucks, on trains, however we could get it in. We tried to distribute it to Jews.

How do you find Jews after 70 years of communism?

Last names, referrals, however we could.

And one day in St. Petersburg we got a call. There was a woman, with a little local Jewish welfare organization. She had a list.

Our hesed system was born.

For more than 20 years, we have worked with local partners to make sure that no elderly Jew is hungry. And that no elderly Jew is alone. We feed stomachs. We feed souls.

Today through our network of 165 local welfare centers in the Former Soviet Union (hesedim), JDC serves more than 160,000 elderly clients in more than 2,500 locations.

In Moscow, in my community, we serve almost 29,000 elderly Jews a year in five hesedim.

But when you visit Moscow, when you visit Chamah or Yad Ezra or Ethel or Nadezdah or Shaare Tzedek, you don’t see numbers.

You see smiles.

You sing Jewish songs.

You dance.

You smell the borscht.

You taste Dima’s markofka (carrot) salad and his gefilite fish

And if you give him a kiss on the cheek, he just might share the secret recipe. (Hint – there’s a brick and a lot of garlic involved.)

You connect.

Because, you see, the clients at Chamah and Ethel and Yad Ezra aren’t that different from our grandparents. So you forget the legacy of 70 years of commumism.

Whereas we can take care of our grandparents, the clients of institutions Chamah and Ethel and Yad Ezra need our help.

You see, the pension provided by the Russian government just isn’t enough. And our clients don’t have savings. So, $300/month in a city that’s more expensive than New York doesn’t go very far. And there may not be children or grandchildren to take care of them.

So they need to make choices.

Does the babushka who painstakingly cuts the leather pendant to give to our American visitors stop and buy diabetes test strips at the pharmacy on the way home? She had a hot meal at Chamah this afternoon, so maybe she can skip dinner?

That’s not acceptable in our community.

Kol Yisrael Averim Ze Le Zeh.

All Israel is responsible for one another.

So, we provide food cards and emergency medications so that she doesn’t have to make that choice.

And if she gets a little bit older, a little bit more frail, we provide her with a patronage, a home care worker. Someone to help her cook, and clean, and shop. She needs a wheelchair, we loan the equipment. Surgery? A grant from our SOS fund.

For years, I read about the work that we do in Moscow, in Ukraine, in Belarus, in Siberia.

But until you meet Ira and Sveta and Anya and Bella and Boris, you cannot feel the depth of the impact.

And then sometimes, when you’ve been here a while, you forget just what our clients face every day.

So each time a new group comes to visit, I look forward to seeing Bella and Chamah and Gretta for the first time through your eyes. Because through your eyes, I’m reminded just how special our work is.

See you soon.

Applications for Inside Jewish Moscow are open through March 18. Email globalservice@jdcny.org for more information.


Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Laughter is the Best Medicine: A Night of Comedic Relief

In 2011, Rachel Briks traveled to Ethiopia on a JDC Young Professionals trip. When she returned, Rachel shared her reflections on Gather the Jews’s blog.

From her piece:

While in Ethiopia … I was privileged to contribute to JDC’s projects of construction of a rural school and medical treatment for children. I also learned about other JDC projects, including scholarships for university and nursing degrees, water well construction to provide rural villages with potable water, and life-saving heart and spinal surgeries, and treatments for curable forms of cancer. This was truly a life-changing and unforgettable opportunity.

Now, Rachel is spearheading a very special night in DC to support Daguma, a young Ethiopian boy who requires spinal surgery to combat Tuberculosis of the spine:

If you’re in Washington, DC – or you’re just interested in saving a life – visit http://jdc.org/laughforlife to make a difference.