Learning From Jewish European Community Builders: Reflections and Inspiration
By Alejandro Okret
The narrative and harsh realities coming out of Europe are far too familiar. Anti-Semitism is prevalent and terrorism around the globe has cast a wide shadow. Yet even during these precarious times that have given many reasons to hide or leave, I have had the privilege of seeing young Jewish adults in Europe and beyond stand up proud, eager and excited to create Jewish community for their peers.
I recently spent a weekend in Prague with twenty-nine young, primarily European Jews who have signed up to create a community for their peers. Through a three-day Moishe House Jewish learning retreat, we explored Shabbat ritual and tradition. We learned together with the help of several dynamic Jewish educators, and from one another. After the retreat, these young Jewish leaders dispersed as they returned home to France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and a handful of other countries with more confidence in their ability to facilitate and lead meaningful and joyful Shabbat experiences.
These young adults represented a wide range of educational and engagement backgrounds. I met participants who came in with little to no Jewish education, including some who had only recently discovered that they are Jewish. Others were Jewish community professionals and alumni of yeshivot. But, they all shared a desire to turn their homes into gathering places and hubs of Jewish activity and were excited to gain skills and a network to do that better. I was inspired by them, and by the Shabbat experiences that they couldn’t wait to facilitate. It became clear that these twenty-nine young adults would return home and very naturally bring their peers into the experiences through their creative community building.
One participant, Sara Moon from Manchester in the UK shared that she struggles to find a welcoming space to actively celebrate Shabbat and incorporate her Jewish identity into her daily life. Following the retreat, Sara shared that she “fell in love with Shabbat all over again and am taking home so many fresh ideas and dreams.” From just one weekend experience with her peers, Sara now feels more connected to the global Jewish community and is better equipped to be a community creator, hosting innovative Shabbats with confidence.
At Moishe House, we have learned that many young adults are eager to facilitate Jewish rituals and traditions that they might not have grown up doing in their own homes, or have not practiced in a long time. Every month we hold one or two Jewish Learning Retreats in locations around the globe, to provide a space for hundreds of young adults to gather, learn and gain the confidence to facilitate for themselves and peers.
During the weekend, though, I realized there is another important reason we do these retreats: to build a supportive community for these incredible leaders. One young woman, Eva Wichsova, shared her excitement in welcoming the other participants to her city: “It is always great to have people from outside our city come visit and show them we are small, but alive. I was proud to showcase our small community of Jewish young adults who run creative programmes each month – from Shabbat dinners to Israeli movie nights to local artistic exhibitions and workshops.”
Eva, mission accomplished. We are proud of the community you have created and excited to be a part of this with you.
These Jewish learning retreats are made possible by Genesis Philanthropy Group, LA Pincus Fund for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, Maimonides Fund, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Jim Joseph Foundation, UJA-Federation of New York an anonymous donor, and many other wonderful partners, Jewish young adults around the world can become confident and knowledgeable leaders and motivate others to be part of their creative Jewish community building process.
Alejandro Okret is the Chief Global Officer for Moishe House, based in London.