Nurturing Europe’s new Jewish leadership


A new World ORT programme aims to bury the notion that Europe is a graveyard for Jewish culture and activism.

The Future Leaders Programme has brought together 34 teenagers from Ireland to Russia “モ 18 countries in all “モ for the first face-to-face sessions in its six-month schedule of training, education, distance learning and volunteering.

“When people talk about Jewish communities it’s often the USA and Israel while Europe is sometimes referred to as the “リgraveyard of Europe’, the place where their grandparents and great-grandparents are buried,”? the Head of World ORT’s Education Department, Daniel Tysman, told participants and guests at ORT House, London, this week. “But it’s very clear from seeing you all here today that Europe isn’t a graveyard; Europe is full of green shoots, full of exciting new initiatives, full of growth, and you are part of that growth.”?
British ORT Trustee Mark Mishon told the participants it was topical to be learning leadership skills just ahead of Pesach, the celebration of the Jews’ exodus under Moses’ leadership.
“You are a significant part of the future of the Jewish communities you represent and, equally, of the whole Diaspora. For the Diaspora to be strong it has to have local leadership,”? Mr Mishon said.
The programme is designed to address the needs of smaller communities in particular, supporting their continuity as well as fostering an appreciation of their symbiotic relationship with the Jewish State. It will culminate with an intensive three-week summer school in Israel.
The European Jewish Fund (EJF) and Israel’s Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs are investing in the programme and both were represented at the welcoming ceremony at ORT House.
Vivian Wineman, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and UK Executive Member of the EJF, remarked on the long and fascinating Jewish history of the communities represented by the 15- to 18-year-olds from Belarus, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Spain, the United Kingdom, France, Norway and Italy.
But, he added, “it’s so much nicer to look at the future generation… There’s a renaissance going on out there which is lovely but to see the younger generation participating gives it an extra dimension”?.
Eyal Dagan, representing the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, said it was astonishing that 500 Jews were being lost to assimilation every day.
“Israel wants to play a major part in making sure that the Jewish people have a future and that’s where you come in,”? Mr Dagan said. “Israel feels responsible for Jews around the world as the only Jewish State “モ not only as a place of refuge but also playing a part in forming a dialogue with existing communities. We believe in the future of these communities and we believe that will derive from work you’re doing. Once we understand that our future is bound together “モ the future of world Jewry and the future of Israel “モ then we’re going to be able to get somewhere. So we truly believe in this investment in you because this is actually the future of communities abroad.”?
The formal welcoming ceremony came after the teenagers had already spent two days immersed in team-building and leadership activities and they were clearly enthused by the experience.
Sara Epstein said she knew she was going to talk of nothing else when she returned to Dublin on Sunday.
“I’ve only been here for two days and I’ve already learned so much and met so many new people and learned so much about Israel,”? she said.
Sara, who is active in her synagogue’s youth movement and cheder, said the infectious enthusiasm generated by World ORT’s programme could create a chain of motivation for young people to get involved in their communities and societies at large.
Fellow participant Karmela Blank, from Vilnius, said Jews had a unique contribution to make to the world which would be lost if assimilation were allowed to win.
“It’s very important to have leaders to make people believe in themselves, to join in activities and to be proud to be Jewish,”? said Karmela, who is vice president of her school’s student council. “Mine is not a big community and a lot of young people have gone to Israel and other countries and we have to maintain ourselves.”?
James Walters sees the World ORT programme as an opportunity to strengthen his skills in building contacts and projecting influence “モ all in the hope of building up his community of just 20 people in the town of Bath, south-west England.
“I want to try to ensure that my community will be as good as it can be,”? James said.
World ORT Education Development Manager Daniel Needlestone said the teenagers were highly motivated to take advantage of the opportunities opened up to them by the programme.
“They understand and appreciate that this is an opportunity for them to develop a mutual understanding of each others’ lives and aspirations,”? Mr Needlestone said. “?It’s a chance to learn leadership skills, build a network of Jewish leaders from the Diaspora, and get a snapshot of the British Jewish community, in particular some of the more innovative projects which are going on.”?