Local Young Adult Leaders on a Mission – to Berlin and Israel

ALLBy Raquel Benguiat

What motivates local Jewish young adults to get involved in Jewish life? How can we raise awareness of the different Jewish organizations in our community and what they have to offer? What is the common purpose and the mission among the leadership of our Jewish young adult community?

These and many more important questions were discussed among the thirty local young adult leaders while exploring Jewish life in Berlin and Israel during the NextGen Leadership Mission powered by the Jewish Federation of San Diego County.

But haven’t these questions already been discussed by many others? Why was it important for us to ponder these questions during this mission? Are we any closer to finding the answers for our community? I believe we are, and the following experiences made me believe so.

In Berlin, among our packed schedule filled with many activities, we had fascinating and frank conversation with three local Jewish young adults. Each had different backgrounds and represented the current composition of the Berlin Jewish community.

  • Renee was born in Berlin and is very involved in the politics of the Jewish community, which we learned is funded by the government with the help of those who proclaim themselves as Jewish and pay specific taxes to maintain it. She advocates for more participation from the Jewish young adults in the Jewish community.
  • Misha’s family is from Russia and, although born in Berlin, he is still considered by others as a “Russian Jew.” He feels disenchanted by the politics of the Jewish community and particularly how funding decisions are made. As a result, he is not willing to contribute to it with his taxes or getting involved.
  • And lastly, Maya, who moved to Berlin a few years ago with her family from Israel. She shared that many Israelis move to Berlin in search of a better quality of life, as Berlin offers a more affordable lifestyle. She firmly believes that there is no need for the Israeli community to get involved in the Jewish community as she feels it has religious goals, which is a turn off to her and the Israelis there. In fact, she even asked us why we would want to get others in involved in our community back home.

These three very different perspectives opened our eyes and hearts to a community that is fragmented with a lack of a common purpose. Surprisingly, it shed light on our own community and the strength and independence of each of our local organizations. It became clear to me the incredible need to recognize our common purpose and work together to accomplish it.

While in Israel, we visited our sister community, Sha’ar Hanegev. Our first stop was to Kibbutz Nahal Oz where Yael Raz Lachyani, the Partnership Director, showed us the close proximity of the Gaza strip and shared the heartbreaking security challenges they face. Later, she invited a group of local, young adults to join us in conversation about their efforts to engage others. It was fascinating to learn that while their community shares a sense of unity, they deal with many of the same questions on how to connect with more young adults and young families in order to create a tighter network which will ultimately result in a stronger and more vibrant community.

We witnessed the importance and relevance of these questions, not only for San Diego and the American Jewish Community, but also for Jews around the globe.

So the real questions are: did we learn anything? Are we getting closer to finding the answers to these important questions after this mission?

I believe that answer was given to us during our last day in Berlin by the people of The German-Israeli Future Forum Foundation (a government funded incubator which invests in bi-national collaborative projects between young people from Israel and Berlin that take on current social issues). Among the many questions our inquisitive group asked, someone inquired about evaluation methods and success rates. Miriam Daur, Office Manager of the Foundation, paused while she thought about the answer. She smiled and replied, “The best way to measure how effective we have been in accomplishing our collaborative goals is to know that these young people are actually getting to know each other and they are working intimately on a common purpose. It really is all about bringing them closer together.”

We started this mission as thirty participants representing a dozen local Jewish organizations. As time passed, each of us became individuals with a wide array of talents and strengths. We had a lot of fun together, made many new friendships and strengthened existing ones. We supported each other during difficult times such as our visit to the concentration camp and the train station where thousands of Jews were deported. We shared delicious meals, fascinating conversations and many unforgettable moments.

Whether it was in Berlin, Israel and now back in San Diego, we are better positioned towards working together on finding the solutions to these questions. Because it was really all about bringing us closer together, thousands of miles away from home.

Raquel Benguiat is a Mexi-Jew who lives in San Diego and is dedicated to philanthropy in higher education and in the Jewish world.