Changing the Landscape of Eastern Europe

It is through the crossing of boundaries and the breaking down of institutional walls that dreams and ideas can soar, optimizing our financial, human, and natural resources.

by Lisa Braun Glazer, Ph.D.

So often, as philanthropists, we donate money to worthy institutions and causes but never actually meet those who are benefitting from our dollars, or if we do, the impact is limited to those people. My recent experience in bringing three vibrant young Jewish professionals from their Eastern European communities to the JCCA Biennial, a gathering of JCC lay and professional leaders from around the world this past week in San Diego, was simply the best and most personally fulfilling philanthropic experience I have ever had.

It all started last April when I went to Poland and met Agata Rakowiecka, 30, who had just accepted the task of starting the 1st (ever!) JCC in Warsaw, seeded by JDC. Her energy and enthusiasm captivated me and I immediately had the idea of bringing her to the Biennial so that she could directly experience the larger universe she was entering and be able to network with and learn from her peers. I talked with my friend, Laurayne Ratner (with whom I was traveling) and together we decided to sponsor Agata, along with Flora Hirshfeld, 35, whom Laurayne had just met in Berlin running JDC sponsored programs for small children and their parents. We then turned to Charlene Seidle of our San Diego Jewish Community Foundation to coordinate our efforts, along with Gideon Hersher of the JDC and Smadar bar Akiva of JCCGlobal. With their help over the course of the intervening year, Laurayne and I selected another young woman, Kira Yankelevich, 27, who runs JCC community programs in Moscow to complete the group. We were able to make this happen only through collaboration and teamwork between the JDC and JCC, and I am grateful to everyone who assisted us, locally and globally.

Last week, they finally arrived in San Diego for the conference. It was energizing to spend time with them, to talk with them about their lives and their hopes and dreams for their Jewish communities, all of which are experiencing new and unprecedented interest in contemporary Jewish cultural life and community. These young women leaders understand that Jewish life in 21st Century Eastern Europe must evolve and respond to what people want, connecting them where they are. Over the course of the five days, they loved meeting and getting to know each other, and each repeatedly told me how much they were enjoying the connections they were making and how much they were learning, including the realization that some of the challenges they are confronting are universal. Over and over again they reiterated their appreciation of our support. But what’s true for me is this: it is an absolute pleasure knowing that through these young women, I am contributing to the rebirth of Eastern European Jewish life. I have received far more than I have given. And it is through the crossing of boundaries and the breaking down of institutional walls that dreams and ideas like this can soar, optimizing our financial, human, and natural resources.

Lisa Braun Glazer, Ph.D., lives in La Jolla, California.