JDC–Schusterman partnership infuses new energy, ideas to empower young Jewish adults in the European Jewish community
By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
Natalie Assa was born in the 6,000-small Jewish community of Bulgaria. A year ago, she moved to Vienna, where she has become active in the Austrian student union and K Space Vienna. She also teaches Israeli dancing.
“Seventy percent of my friends are Jewish,” says Assa. “The community has a lot to offer.”
However, Assa’s rich Jewish life is not devoid of challenges. There has been a rising tide of anti-Semitism across Europe, fueled partially by anger at Israeli policy in the Middle East, including in Austria where an estimated 15,000 Jews continue to reside. A report published earlier this month by the Austrian Forum Against Anti-Semitism found the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in Austria increased more than 80 percent in 2015, with reported internet postings denouncing Jews more than doubling.
“Aliyah would not resolve our struggles,” says Assa. “It would not make our lives easier. As Jews and as young adults we need to learn how to handle every situation, no matter how hard it is. It is our responsibility to take our future in our own hands.”
Assa’s involvement with Junction – a pan European young Jewish adult engagement platform, has played a role in ensuring Assa is not only engaged with the European Jewish community, but prepared to lead it. Now she is working on launching a BBYO chapter and establishing Moishe House Vienna.
Junction is a partnership of JDC and the Schusterman Family Foundation and is part of Yesod, the new initiative offering Jewish communal professionals, leaders, and young adults the networks, knowledge, and skillset to create vibrant and meaningful Jewish life in their local communities and across Europe.
“Young Europeans are full of energy,” says Assa. “Europe keeps developing and so do the people.”
“Home is where you live,” says Ruben Uzan, a young adult from Paris, who spent two years living in Israel. “Europe is our home.”
JDC-Europe Regional Director Diego Ornique expresses similar sentiments. He tells eJP that while the media makes it appear that the Jewish community is leaving in Europe, “in reality, the vast majority are staying.” As such, he says there is an increasing need to help the Jewish communities of Europe to become more resilient.
“Resilience is not just defense, protection, but helping these communities to expand and grow,” explains Ornique. “There is increased anti-Semitism and Europe is changing in general. At the same time, we see Jewish revival in lots of places.”
Ornique says that while Europe continues to celebrate the more traditional organized Jewish community, rooted in synagogue and Jewish Community Center life, he is seeing new, diverse and rich grass-root developments among the younger Jewish community, where people tend to connect to their faith not within four walls but through their passions or careers.
“It’s a lot less top down,” Ornique says.
Recently, JDC and Schusterman partnered to step-up the Junction program that Assa is involved with to better meet the needs of these young Jewish adults. Junction seeks to empower young professionals through international gatherings and trainings that include professional and personal exploration, education and idea exchanges, networking and leadership support.
Events such as Con.Junction in Warsaw bring young professionals from all over Europe together in an innovative and modern Jewish space dedicated to cultivating self-exploration, growth and a sense of belonging. Connect for French-speaking Jewish aged 24 to 40 offers three days of leadership development in various professional fields. D&A in Berlin offers European Jewish bloggers, journalists, researchers and other storytellers to shape the way the contemporary Jewish narrative is told.
JDC and Schusterman have a deep history of collaboration on projects throughout Europe. The formal partnership around Junction, which has been fertilizing for two years, leverages the strengths of both organizations.
“Our partnership isn’t grounded in dollars. It is grounded in designs,” explains Seth Cohen, senior director of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. “Schusterman brings to the table understanding and experience with how to engage young leaders in uniting for change and creating community in their own image from programs like REALITY Experience and ROI Community. JDC brings expertise in how to design opportunities for young adults to create impact in their local communities.”
Cohen says that as the challenges facing European Jews continue to increase, the global Jewish community will need to work together to find ways to increase the strength and the number of young leaders in Europe to respond to these challenges.
“Both Schusterman and JDC are learning organizations that continue to execute, learn, pivot and grow,” Cohen says.
He also believes that the work done in Europe today will have global impact on the Jewish community.
“We live in a global world where today’s leader in Paris could be tomorrow’s leader in Israel and today’s leader in London might be tomorrow’s leader in Atlanta,” says Cohen. “Investing in the Jewish future has no boundaries or borders.”
Photos courtesy Junction/JDC