Around this time last year, I wrote a photo-blog listing my top ten experiences of the first year of my fellowship. This past week, I’ve been sentimental about how my second and final year of this fellowship is soon ending. The annual JDC Germany staff meeting, which took place this week in Germany on the gorgeous Swiss border, was a fantastic way to say goodbye to all the great women I’ve worked with in the past two years. We met with Alberto Senderey, the Executive Director of JDC Europe and enjoyed a great evening at Lilis together, where she served Russian specialties to the delight of our staff. They explained each dish to me (think mayonnaise, white fish, beets, cheese and more mayo!). At the end of the evening, I received a card signed by the whole staff and a beautiful gift.
In the spirit of saying adieu, here are the top ten of the last year:
In an effort to increase cultural events for young Jewish adults in Berlin, my friends and I hosted a Lag BaOmer Barbeque last night, with help from JDC and also from Jung und Jüdisch, an organization of the Liberal movement that organizes events for young Jewish adults in cities all over Germany.
There are several meanings attributed to the holiday Lag BaOmer, although many people simply view the holiday as an excuse to celebrate. We modified the holiday tradition of building a bonfire by instead safely grilling in Görlitzer Park in Kreuzberg, Berlin.
When we arrived to set up, the grilling area was filled with Turkish families. But as the sky grew darker, most of the families headed home, and our guests arrived with food and drink to share. Since yesterday was Saturday, Jung und Jüdisch led a beautiful Havdala as the sun set. Bringing the JDC Berlin and Jung und Jüdisch networks together proved to be very successful, and the celebration continued late into the night.
Below are a couple of my photos from the Young Adult Seder that took place last week in Berlin. It was a beautiful and inspiring evening. While I was home last weekend spending time with my family, Sarah wrote a moving piece about the Seder that we had organized with our friends, which she shared on her blog and which was also featured on JDC: In Service!
Returning home after our Seder in Berlin to Columbus, Ohio, where numerous mainstream grocery stores have aisles dedicated to Pesach food (getting Matzah and kosher for Pesach goods in Berlin was a total operation in itself!) and a family that stems from a long, unbroken chain of Jewish tradition, I felt incredibly grateful. Grateful for growing up in a strong Jewish community and family. But also grateful for the opportunity to celebrate in Berlin with peers who didn’t come from such a community or family, but are working to build that for the future. Their desire to bring to life the traditions that were lost in their own families and communities through decades of devastation and corruption is inspirational. Pesach is the perfect holiday to celebrate being Jewish, as we work toward liberating this community from its dark history.
This year I’m attending a Pesach Seder in Berlin with friends and also one at home in Columbus, Ohio over Easter weekend when my family can all come together (siblings now live in 5 different cities, not to mention 2 continents). I’m looking forward to Charoset sandwiches and Matzah ball soup all week long!
After a fascinating quick three and a half days in Istanbul, we boarded our flight for Berlin.
During the flight, I couldn’t sleep due to my excitement about the next few days. Would everything work out the way we planned? Would the participants have a good experience? As I fidgeted with my iPod, I looked over next to me on the plane to find Erica, JSC Fellow in Minsk, Belarus ’06-’07, reading the JDC briefing packet on Germany. She gave me a newspaper to read, which calmed my nerves.
We arrived late Wednesday night. We checked in at Hotel Amano, a wonderful hotel that only after booking, did I discover it was Jewish-owned. The next morning we drove to Bambinim Familyclub, a JDC project, where we heard from Marcelo, the Operations Director of The JDC International Centre for Community Development, Tanya, who works with JDC in West Germany and Flora, the Director of Bambinim. It was interesting and also surreal to bring the group into our world, since I met them all in a different country only earlier that week. I showed them the video I made a year ago of Bambinim, which was a little embarrassing, to have the attention on me for a minute. But it also made me proud of myself and my colleagues, that we could share our work with a large, engaged group. During a break, Sarah surprised the group with her homemade Hamantaschen, a delicious reminder that Purim was just around the corner.
After leaving Bambinim, we headed over to the Jewish Community building down the street for lunch at Gabriels, a kosher restaurant. Sandra and Mirjam, two community leaders joined us to answer questions about the issues facing to the Jewish community in Berlin. After lunch, we visited the Jewish Museum, and heard from Lev Libeskind, who represents The Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research and is also the son of the famous architect Daniel Libeskind, who designed the museum. He also gave us a unique perspective on The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which we visited the following day.
In between our stimulating meetings with leaders of various prominent Jewish organizations operating in Berlin, the group got the opportunity to explore Berlin. One afternoon we spent in Mitte, and I led the group to the Brandenburg Gate, Unter den Linden, Checkpoint Charlie and to pieces of the Berlin Wall.
On Saturday, Thorsten gave us a tour of the old Jewish quarter. It was my third time doing the 2-hour tour, but it’s such a fascinating tour, I’m surprised by the same facts every time. Most of the tour is made up of not-so-visible parts, so it’s almost like a treasure hunt through a bustling part of Berlin.
The trip came to an end with the celebration of Purim, which I posted about earlier. I was so relieved that everything had worked out great, but I was more grateful for having the opportunity to showcase JDC’s work in Berlin and also to get to know such a genuinely nice and engaged group of active young adults. When I think back to last summer when I was asked to co-chair a trip with Perry and Naomi, it’s amazing to see how it came together in the end. Through the process, I learned a great deal about JDC’s work in the world, the Berlin and Istanbul Jewish communities and also made some wonderful, new friends.
This month, I co-chaired a trip to Istanbul, Turkey with 16 young Jewish adults living in the States to learn about the Turkish Jewish community. The trip was organized by the NextGen department of JDC. Unlike most of JDC short-term trips, which are usually for college students, the participants on this trip were either young professionals or in graduate school. Many participants were previously involved with JDC work. Some were Jewish Service Corps Fellows in placements such as Belarus and Ukraine and others had completed JDC short-term service trips in countries such as Argentina and Israel. Many others are now currently involved in Jewish community programs in the States, through fundraising and other Jewish orgs such as the Moishe House. Through this trip, which ended in Berlin on Sunday, we were exposed to a new perspective on Global Jewry in the Diaspora and given the opportunity to build a network among ourselves, sharing our considerable experience with Global Jewish life with one another.
There are over 20,000 Jews living in Turkey today. The majority of Turkish Jews live in the city of Istanbul, the only city in the world that sits on two continents: Europe and Asia. Unlike the Jewish community of Germany, the Jewish community of Turkey is shrinking: emigrating; making Aliyah; disassociating; and aging.
However, Jewish life in Istanbul is vibrant despite being a tiny religious minority. There is a Jewish school, hospital, elderly home, youth center and synagogues. Unlike the States, the Jewish community functions on a system of volunteerism. Almost all of the community organizers we met were volunteers who are also balancing demanding careers. For example, Tuna, who develops Jewish youth leadership programs, is a dentist.
Ami, Director of JDC Turkey and Egypt, who has developed strong friendships and partnerships in the community although he is based in Israel, gave us a great tour of the community. Ami does not speak Turkish, but all of the leaders of the community speak Hebrew and/or English, too. My favorite part of the trip was speaking with the Chief Rabbi of Turkey Izak Haleva. He spoke in Hebrew, and Ami translated. The Rabbi explained that he has very good relationships with Turkish religious leaders from other faith traditions.
Like everyone on the trip, I was not just excited to learn about the Turkish Jewish community, but to also experience Turkish culture in Istanbul! Berlin has the largest Turkish population of any city in the world outside Turkey. In Berlin, I live in one of the most densely populated Turkish areas. On my street, there is a Turkish Market twice a week and we have many Turkish restaurants and fabric stores. I almost had zero culture shock in Turkey because I’m so used to seeing Turkish writing, hearing Turkish and eating Turkish food. I joked that the real culture shock was being around so many Americans again – my gosh, are we loud! And now that I’m back in Berlin, it’s wonderful to talk to all the Turkish Germans about my experience in Istanbul.
On our last night in Istanbul, the Jewish youth center welcomed us for dinner. We were able to talk with many of our peers and enjoy a delicious Turkish feast!
The next day we flew to Berlin together, where the wonderful 2nd part of our experience awaited us – which I can hardly wait to share in my next post!
Last week I co-chaired a JDC trip for young Jewish adults to Istanbul, Turkey and Berlin, Germany. More about our amazing, whirlwind trip, when I fully recover! ‘Til then, here are some pictures from Purim in Berlin. For me, it was a 24-hour affair, that started with a Megilla reading at Synagogue Pestalozzistrasse and ended in being interviewed and photographed by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a national German newspaper!