The Summer Olympics in London may be over, but Team India is just getting started.
Comprised of five young Jewish adults from India, the group affectionately dubbed “Team India” just came off a social entrepreneurship training stint at the JDC/Ronald S Lauder Szarvas camp. Szarvas, an international Jewish summer camp located in Hungary had two sessions this summer with more than 1,000 young Jewish campers from the U.S., Israel, India, Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary and other spots worldwide. Many of the young people who attend Szarvas and participate in its myriad of Jewish and leadership development activities, go on to become the next generation of Jewish leaders in their home communities.
Young Indian Jews – living in a nation with nearly 4,500 Jews today – enthusiastically engage in Jewish education, camping, social activities, and Jewish holiday celebrations at places like the Evelyn Peters Jewish Community Center (EPJCC) in Mumbai. They also have access to leadership training programs that have been successful in creating continuity in the community for generations to come. Tracing their roots back 2,000 years, Indian Jews are located in two large communities in Mumbai and Thane but can also be found in Pune, Gujarat (Ahmedabad), Kerala (Cochin), Delhi, Kolkata and the Konkan Villages. Indian Jews – mainly comprised of Bene Israel, Baghdadi, and Cochini Jews – coalesce around a variety of synagogues and other spaces for Jewish activity.
At Szarvas, hands-on workshops encouraged the young Indian campers to devise creative new ways to engage more of their peers in Jewish community life in at home in Mumbai and its suburbs. JDC Jewish Service Corps Fellow Heather Blonsky coordinated this first-of-its-kind effort at Szarvas, and joined the Indian contingent (three young men and two women) at the camp.
Team India also took part in program activities at the camp, with one member organizing yoga sessions and others working to raise social awareness among campers and counselors. Among these were efforts to urge that leftover camp food be given away to a food pantry each day and another encouraged everyone to conserve water.
Here’s what you can expect to see transform India’s Jewish community in the months and years ahead – projects as diverse as the social entrepreneurs themselves:
Akiev S., a business owner with an advanced degree in engineering, plans to organize a technology conference in the coming year that will feature some of Israel’s best “hi-tech” companies. He wants to match Israelis with local Indian professionals, and make Israeli technology more accessible to a variety of local industries.
Dayan A., who is studying for a master’s degree in psychology, wants to conduct a needs assessment among young adults in the community so that Jewish programming can better reflect their needs, with a kick-off event to jumpstart the project.
Jennifer J., trained in management and marketing, hopes to create a new mentoring platform for young people. Her goal is to strengthen community bonds while providing an essential service for young adults – one that gives them access to seasoned advice and networking and learning opportunities.
Nissim P., a manager, community activist, and now a proud father, wants to fill a gap in community programming that has affected him personally by developing “Family Matters” sessions for young couples and parents. The sessions would cover topics like partnership, parenting, and Judaism in the home, while fun-filled Jewish activities would engage the children.
Judith H., a human resources manager, is aiming to reach out to Jews not currently active in the community by developing a Jewish Yellow Pages. The goal would be to connect Jews to Jewish service providers, thereby making community members more accessible to one another and encouraging mutual support.
Much work and fine-tuning lies ahead to turn these plans into reality – but we wish all of Team India the best of luck!
For more information on JDC programs in India, visit jdc.org/india.
For more on the Szarvas camp experience …