“I wanted to do something for the Jewish people”

Photo credit Nir Kafri; ©The Jewish Agency for Israel.

By Nathan Roi
translated to English by Daniel Temkin

Over five years have passed since Luca Elek first joined MiNYanim, an educational program in which participants collaboratively explore their Jewish identities, community, and leadership. Since then, she has taken the opportunity to learn and teach, participate and lead within MiNYanim. Today, she is its Educational Coordinator.

“I came to MiNYanim without much knowledge of Judaism,” she recalls. “MiNYanim changed my life in that I began to do different activities related to Jewish identity within my community. Today I want to take responsibility for the community, to advance it, and to bring it to a more informed place.”

Specifically, she credits MiNYanim with teaching her about the Jewish community and giving her a more open mind toward Judasim – including the entire spectrum of Jewish identity.

“At MiNYanim, I have started to understand the Jewish community and become open to every member of it,” she says. “When I came to MiNYanim, I opened up to my Judaism.”

Each year, MiNYanim includes dozens of participants from countries throughout both Eastern and Western Europe, as well as Israel – giving young Jews from a wide variety of countries a chance to engage meaningfully with fellow Jews from diverse backgrounds. There are currently 50 participants. MiNYanim is made possible by the generous support of UJA-Federation of New York and other partners and supporters of The Jewish Agency for Israel.

“In every state in Eastern Europe, there are five to 10 young adults (a minyan) and one coordinator who leads the local educational agenda,” Luca explains. “They meet a few times each month to develop materials relating to Judaism and Jews, and they form a group that works on advancing this subject. The purpose is to turn them from passive Jewish people into active ones, social activists.”

Additionally, Luca says, MiNYanim hosts seminars in Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and Israel each year, focusing on matters relating to both Israel and Jewish identity.

Exploring Judaism

Born and raised in Budapest, Hungary, Luca grew up in a largely secular household.

“My parents were raised not as Jews but as secular people who wanted to have an impact on society through their journalism. But they did everything to enable me to achieve my ambitions,” she says. “One of [those ambitions] was to travel to Spain and learn Spanish. When I was 17, they arranged just such a trip for me, in which I lived with a Spanish family in the city of Cádiz, Spain, and I learned Spanish. And that opened my eyes to the wide world, to different people, to people with backgrounds different from mine.”

After returning to Hungary, Luca earned a degree in the social sciences and became an activist for civil rights and social justice.

She also participated in Taglit-Birthright Israel, followed by The Jewish Agency’s Tikun Olam program in Budapest – experiences that inspired her to think more seriously about her Jewish identity.

“And then I joined MiNYanim, because I wanted to do something for the Jewish people,” she recalls. “I wanted to understand what it means to be Jewish. I wanted to understand [what happens] at the synagogue. And then I felt close to the Jewish community. I saw fascinating phenomena, like my meeting with the Neolog community. And it was a different experience from what I had expected.”

Since participating in MiNYanim, Luca has enjoyed the opportunity to explore Jewish rituals in a pluralistic, active community.

“At MiNYanim, nobody pushed me to be ‘more Jewish.’ They wanted me to be involved,” she says. “One of the things that has happened to me since I came to MiNYanim is that for the past three years, I have held a Pesach seder at my house for my friends who were with me at MiNYanim and others. We cook together and have the Pesach meal together.”

From Participant to Leader

After completing her session at MiNYanim, Luca stayed involved with the program’s community. Eventually, that involvement started to go beyond just a matter of personal interest.

“I went to a meeting with Tomi [MiNYanim’s Director], after I had finished MiNYanim, and I suggested that he add an anti-racism component to MiNYanim. Tomi sat across from me and was happy about my proposal. He said, ‘I know you’re finishing university. Don’t you need regular work?’”

Luca agreed, first becoming a logistical manager and then starting to focus on her real passion: education.

Today, more than five years after she first began participating in MiNYanim, she helps shape the learning experience of current and future cohorts from across Europe and Israel.

“In every region, in every society, in every country, [MiNYanim] has one or two coordinators, and my role is to train these mentors,” she says. “I see that they find their paths, and I hope they will get up and act in fields related to Judaism.”

In other words, Luca seeks to help these regional coordinators foster powerful educational experiences – the same kinds of impactful experiences that she enjoyed as a MiNYanim participant.

Courtesy The Jewish Agency for Israel