Repair Essay: JDC Service Corps in Riga, Latviaby Joey Eisman | March 23, 2012 | 0 comments
This essay was contributed by Joey Eisman, JDC’s Roslyn Z. Wolf Cleveland-JDC Fellow, part of the JDC Jewish Service Corps, serving in the Jewish community of Riga, Latvia. JDC is a Repair the World grantee-partner
A large open field. Massive stoic cement figures. The ominous sound of a heart beat in the distance. Salaspils Concentration camp. This Nazi occupied concentration camp was the largest in the Baltics. It is possible my ancestors died at this very place.
I remember the intense emotions brought on by my visit to Salaspils. I felt wretched, disgusted, confused. And yet, I also felt blessed to be there. Why was I there? Because I am a JDC Jewish Service Corps (JSC) Fellow serving in Latvia for one year, and because I feel an onus to be an advocate and educator for Jews all over the world.
The JSC Fellowship is an incredible opportunity for Jewish young adults to spend a year abroad working directly with an overseas Jewish community. Each Fellow is matched with a JDC-supported community based on the Fellow’s skills and the community’s needs. My skills are in informal Jewish education and program development, so I work at the Riga Jewish Youth Center in Riga, Latvia. Along with a passionate group of local volunteers and dedicated professionals, I am working to strengthen Jewish life in this region – efforts that, since the fall of communism more than 20 years ago, have been supported by JDC.
The roots and history of the Latvian Jewish community are rich and vibrant. In the early 20th century, Latvia teemed with Jewish culture, and was home to many influential people, including Rav Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate for Palestine.
The recent resurgence and growth of the Jewish community after great tragedy (a horrific 95% of the Jews in Latvia were murdered in the Holocaust) stem from the remnants of the community and the support of organizations like JDC. Jewish communities in the Baltics are very eager to learn and rebuild, and there is a renaissance of Jewish life and Jewish identity.
The focus of my work, and a major effort in the community, is on the future of the Jewish people – the teens and young adults who will become the next Jewish leaders. Paramount to the preservation of any community is the young generation. There is currently a large youth presence in the community, and it grows every year.
With the community, I am developing new programs and leading seminars on varying topics, including topics on practical Judaism, being leader in a community and how to develop meaningful Jewish programming. I have lead workshops in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Ukraine. These workshops are framed as a conversation; all involved are encouraged to take ownership of the content. My work at the youth center is a small, yet critical piece of the larger work the local Jewish community and JDC are undertaking here. Without the groundwork they have laid over the past two decades, my programs with Jewish teens would be impossible to organize and implement.
I am proud to support the rebuilding of this community through my year of service, a feeling strengthened by the personal relationships I have made with local staff and community members. My time as a JDC Jewish Service Corps Fellow may not be over, but I already know that this experience will stay with me for the rest of my life.