Yahad, Bringing Estonia’s Jewish Community Together

Yahad EstoniaBy Yuka Shterenberg

The ninth annual Jewish forum, “Yahad” (“All Together”) took place in Pärnu, Estonia from October 9-11. It was one of the most exciting community events of the year, which gathered Jewish people of all ages and from all across the country. 470 people have participated in Yahad 2015, among them around 70 children.

By way of background, our Jewish community, as it exists today, was restructured after the Second World War; the work completed by the end of 1992 was the decision to create a single umbrella organization called the Jewish Community of Estonia (JCE). According to its statutes, the JCE will carry on the traditions of the pre-war Jewish Cultural Council. Today, it includes all Jewish societies and groups, both religious and secular, amongst them the Social Welfare Centre, the Maccabi sport clubs, the Association of Jewish Youth and Students and the Jewish Veterans Union.

Nowadays, the Jewish Community of Estonia is a very active and rapidly expanding organization. More than 1500 people are now members of JCE. The Jewish community aims to provide a valuable Jewish life for each member: children, youth, students, the middle-aged, and seniors. On September 8, 2013, we opened a kindergarten. Named AVIV, the kindergarten is for children aged one and half years to seven years-of-age; as of today, we have inducted four classes and more than fifty children.

One crucial part of the JCE’s work is concerned with organizing events: conferences, Jewish holidays, cultural events, and educational seminars. Yahad itself began as an idea of the president of the community, Alla Jakobson, as a forum where the community could be together. Established in 2007, the first time Yahad took place was in Laulasmaa, a beautiful seaside village not far from Tallinn, and it brought together about 300 participants.

We can say with confidence that, over the past few years, Yahad has become one of the high points of community life. For us, Yahad is a big family festival, not only because it brings together members of the community whatever their age, but also because the community itself is a big family that reunites for these special days.

This year, the traditional format of the forum was maintained with lectures, concerts, discussions, workshops and classes for children available during the course of the forum. At any given time during the forum’s program, there were numerous scheduled events taking place simultaneously, and participants were able to choose which topic is the most interesting to them.

Yahad has always strived to include events on all topics related to Jewish life. This year there were events dedicated to Jewish culture and traditions, art, history, psychology, economics, health, politics and more. For example, this year Julia Patrakova gave lectures about Jewish artists and writers. Elsewhere, there was training for young parents, and other creative workshops. The children’s program was equally varied. Every day there were artistic workshops, dance and music classes, and other educative and entertaining activities organized by the group of young madrichim from the JCE.

Local and international speakers from Israel, Russia, the United States, Germany, Latvia, and Lithuania led educational lectures, seminars, and round tables. All lectures and seminars were conducted in three languages: Estonian, Russian, and English. Every day, there were also concerts and movie nights, which introduced forum participants to Jewish cinema and music.

Every year, new events and activities are added to the already busy program of the Forum. This year “Yahad Maccabiah” has attracted over 100 participants – adults and children of all ages – and awarded prized to winners of mini-golf, badminton, and table tennis competitions.

Other highlights of “Yahad 2015” included the Havdalah ceremony, which had a truly sacramental and spiritual atmosphere and a remarkable performance from the Israeli virtuoso violinist Sanya Kroitor. The Forum was capped by an impressive fireworks display in the night sky over Pärnu.

Technical support of the Forum has also reached a new level by the implementation of “Yahad 2015” application available for mobile devices, which can still be downloaded from Google Play and Apple Store. The application provides full information about the Forum including the program, list of lecturers and speakers, media files and sponsors.

The Forum was visited by a number of high-ranking officials, including Marina Kaljurand, Estonian Minister of International Affairs, and Arezoo Hersel, First Secretary (Deputy Head of Mission) of the Embassy of Israel in Helsinki, who both spoke during the opening of the Forum.

As we analyze the feedback questionnaires collected from Yahad participants, it is becoming clear to us participants’ opinion of Yahad 2015’s organization and content has been overwhelmingly positive. People liked the atmosphere of the forum, different formats of meetings, and the saturation of the program. This is a great foundation to build on looking forward to 2016, which will be the tenth anniversary of Yahad.

Jewish Community of Estonia would like to thank our friends from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, European Jewish Fund, Estonian Republic Ministry of Culture and Bronshtein family fund for the partnership and support of the Estonian Jewry Forum Yahad organization.

Yuka Shterenberg works for the Jewish Community of Estonia.