By Sveta Raskin
Some 200 Jewish youths from Russia and the CIS gathered in Jerusalem last week for a a journey that connected to their Jewish roots stronger and had them returning home with renewed drive and inspiration for Jewish activism.
These teenagers were the activists of the EnerJew youth movement that has grown rapidly across the former Soviet Union countries in the last few years.
They arrived to Israel’s capital for a motivational seminar that combined travel to holy Jewish places, memorable visits and engaging activities prepared by the movement’s coordinators.
In five days, the group toured the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall, traveled to Kfar Chabad and Tel Aviv, climbed Masada at sunrise and slept in beduin tents, all the while engaging in intense and stimulating discussions and workshops.
For many of the participants, it was their first visit to Israel and excitement shot through the roof. “I just had an explosion, an explosion of emotions. I am a little shocked and beyond excited. This is my first trip to my homeland,” said one boy from Odessa, Ukraine.
Initiated by the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS (FJC,) under the leadership of philanthropist Lev Leviev. Support is provided by the Finger Foundation, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and the LA Pincus Fund.
EnerJew launched in 2013 with only 5 cities. The same number joined every half a year, taking it up to 20 by now and making EnerJew the only large Jewish youth movement across the FSU. It attempts to change the current status-quo of post-Soviet passive, receiving communities and shape them into pro-active, empowered, buzzing incubators of Jewish life.
“Our main focus is on three key points: connection, continuity and initiative,” said Konstantin Shulman, EnerJew project director. “It is important for young people to connect, make friends and socialize within the Jewish community. The project activists in each city also make sure there is a continuous stream of activity, be it educational, social or other programs.”
During the seminar, a vibrant fair of social projects was held with teams from each city competing for the prize – a mini-grant that enables the winners to make a pilot of the project and try it out in the real world. “These kids are the future of Russian Jewry,” Shulman said. “We want them to learn to take an active part in it.”
This year’s seminar participants came from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Some had a stronger Jewish background, coming from Or Avner network of Jewish schools, others have only recently jumped on board, learning about EnerJew through friends and on social media.
However, at the end of the seminar, all participants echoed each other in expressing sentiments of life-changing experiences and feelings of belonging to one big family.
“These few days have changed our lives,” wrote one first-time participant in post-seminar review. “I realized that I’m not just visiting here, but that I came Home to my family.” Another wrote, “I love all of you and hope we will meet here again, together in Jerusalem.”
When asked what he thought of such reviews of the seminar, Rabbi Moshe Rochlin, from the EnerJew’s staff said: “We try to change their lives with the belief that later on they will change the Community and the world around them.”