While I was talking to a philanthropist today, I was reminded of a transformative experience I had 18 months ago when I staffed a trip Lithuania, Latvia and Israel. It was truly one of the perks of my job. As I shared my experience, I remembered with great joy some of the people I met.
When I arrived in Vilnius, I had no expectations of what I would see. It was my first Holocaust education experience. After a walking tour of the former Jewish community and the ghetto, we took a bus to the Ponar Forest with a surviving partisan. This beautiful 88-year-old woman is a warrior from the past and a witness and storyteller now and forever. When I asked her how she could keep doing this she answered, “As long as I have legs to stand on, I will always tell their story.” I was deeply touched as I saw the truth in her eyes.
That night at dinner, we met the next generation of Jews who are starving for any Jewish experience we can bring to their area. One of our most successful program partners is Limmud Baltics. This Jewish conference is held in February when the weather is 20 below brings over 1000 young Jews together to learn and sing. Our LimmudLA Conference held in February in Los Angeles brings only ½ of that. In Los Angeles, we have so many choices. The successful attendance in the Baltics is simply due to the fact this is how they experience Jewish life and can learn new prayers and songs to take home to continue their own Jewish education.
The next day, we visited the Jewish Day School there and later, we delivered clothes and toys to the poorest Jews in the world. Giving clothes and toys to children who are in great need was a profound experience for me and my entire group.
To see The Jewish Federation at work in the Baltics transformed me. I came home with a different perspective and with a renewed gratitude for all Jewish things in my life.
Thank you to The Jewish Federation for giving me an opportunity that I will cherish forever.