Finding a Path that Fits

Anna (center) with her coachees at OpportUNITY. Photo by Phelia Barouh.
Anna (center) with her coachees at OpportUNITY. Photo by Phelia Barouh.

By Maia Ferdman

Anna Nosková holds many identities. She’s both Ukrainian and Czech, both a journalist and a fashion blogger.

She is also Jewish. However, it was not until attending her first Junction event that she fully understood how being Jewish fit in with her other identities and into her everyday life.

Anna was born in Odessa, Ukraine, and grew up singing Yiddish songs and eating Jewish food. She moved to Prague with her family when she was five years old, where her grandfather teaches Talmudic law and where she first saw one of the most visited Jewish museums in the world. Through these experiences and many others, Anna always felt a strong identification with her Jewish roots.

However, she was still uncertain about how to act on these roots or connect to them in any tangible way. Her mother, raised under Communism, did not celebrate Jewish holidays. “Being Jewish was always an underground thing,” she said.

Upon moving to Prague, Anna often felt like an outsider as a Russian-speaker. When she was older, Anna’s family joined Chabad. However, she did not personally connect to the Orthodox approach to Judaism either. “As a teenager and in the beginning of my twenties I was interested in art and fashion, and I just wanted to fit in, study, and get a good job,” she said.

She did just that. Anna studied journalism in university, and felt increasingly drawn to fashion as a form of self-expression. After various jobs in the industry, she decided to start FashionBook Czech Republic, a lifestyle blog addressing art and society, in 2009.

But despite her later successes in her field, she still felt something fundamental was missing in her everyday life. “I was always connected to who I was but didn’t know what to do with it,” she said. “I was not so happy; I was missing such a big part of myself.”

In what would prove to be a significant moment in her life, Anna interviewed a fashion designer named Antonina Samecka. Antonina, who founded the brand RISK made in Warsaw, started her own Jewish-inspired fashion line and draws a connection between her own Judaism and fashion. She has also been involved in numerous JDC and Junction programs, and recommended them to Anna.

Following Antonina’s suggestion, Anna decided to try a Junction program, first attending the 2014 Junction Conference in Paris. She was initially nervous, but soon discovered a welcoming and enriching Jewish environment.

“I’ll be thankful to (Antonina) forever,” Anna said. “Junction started the Renaissance of my Jewish life.”

Indeed, Anna said that the Junction Conference made her realize that she can be secular and Jewish, and that being Jewish can take whatever form she wants it to.

“I found the empowerment that I can be young, cool, and Jewish, and doing interesting stuff,” she said. “And I can grow on a Jewish and spiritual level according to my values and my world. I don’t have to change or become anybody else.”

Anna decided to continue attending Junction programs, seeing many of her new friends at OpportUNITY in Barcelona, and again at D&A in Berlin. This year she also attended the Schusterman Foundation’s ROI Summit in Israel.

“I met lots of interesting people from all over the world, and have built a strong network. We can visit each other, give suggestions in our cities, or meet for Shabbat” she said. “The world is my home now.”

These Junction experiences opened Anna to new ways of looking at her own professional and personal life as well.

“I work as creative consultant. (Approaching press) can be playful and intuitive, it’s not so rigid. These things can also apply to how to approach young people about Judaism,” she said.

Feeling more oriented in her Jewish identity, Anna also decided to run for her local Jewish youth organization upon her return from Paris. She is now the president of the Union of Czech Jewish Youth, an organization with about 500 members that organizes holiday celebrations, Tikkun Olam projects, and political activism, among other activities for young people ages 15 to 40.

As president of the Union of Czech Jewish Youth, Anna tries to incorporate the same welcoming and friendly environment she first found at Junction.

“The seminars (I attended) help us understand how to do our events. I want to create such an environment, so that young people in Czech Republic feel welcome,” she said. “I believe the future of the Jewish people is in this openness and inclusive approach.”

While Anna is optimistic about and hopeful for the future of her local Jewish community, she also intends to maintain her newfound Jewish connection for the rest of her own life.

“There are a lot of questions opening ahead in front of me. I don’t know if I’ll always stay in Prague. But I would always somehow want to be involved and working for the Jewish people. This is my purpose, it’s a life commitment,” she said. “Thanks to organizations like the JDC and the Schusterman Foundation I feel like I can grow on this level, not only as a member, but taking an active part in my own future.”