There are several reasons 24-year-old Jaime Kaminer is planning to participate in the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) Inside Jewish Moscow trip in July.
Kaminer – raised in Paramus and now in her third-year as a neuroscience graduate student at Stony Brook University – agrees with her school’s Hillel rabbi that there is “not much sense of community” among the Jewish students on campus.
“There are tons of graduate students, but we’re sort of a commuter school,” she said. “I’d be happy to come back [from the trip] and spread the word,” galvanizing other students to become more involved in Jewish life.
Kaminer participated in Birthright Israel through the Hillel at Tufts University, where she was an undergraduate, and has kept in touch with the college organization. She would like to see a more vibrant Jewish life on her new campus, as well.
There is another reason, however, that Moscow appealed to her.
“I’m fascinated by what the Jews in Russia are going through,” she said. “It’s one thing to read about it, but another to talk to them and experience it.”
Kaminer said Moscow today seems to be “a place where there is a lot of hope, and the potential to help build the Jewish community. I genuinely feel I can make a difference while I’m there.”
She became interested in JDC’s National Young Professionals Trip to Moscow when a friend from Tufts told her about the many JDC ventures he has joined. “He has a ton of stories,” she said. “This summer he’s leading a trip to Argentina.”
“I have less time,” said Kaminer, the recipient of a JDC Global Leadership grant, “but I wanted to go on a trip, as well. I chose Moscow, since at least two of my grandparents have a Russian background and the Jews there are in an interesting situation, post-communism. It’ll be cool to interact with them.”
That interaction will take various forms, according to the student’s itinerary. The trip – July 1-8 – will bring participants together with local Jews, including cultural exchanges with young leaders, outdoor activities with children and families, and home visits with the elderly. In addition, the visitors will make stops at Jewish community centers and
take part in a Kabbalat Shabbat service.
According to JDC, the trip will enable participants to “explore the history and renaissance of Jewish life in Moscow through exclusive briefings, site visits, and an exchange with local community leaders.”
Besides visiting Moscow’s most noted attractions – such as Red Square, the Kremlin, and the Bolshoi Theater – participants will also take day trips to JDC’s summer family camp on the outskirts of Moscow, and visit the Jewish community of Tula, a city in central Russia.
Founded as a relief organization in 1914, the JDC today serves Jews, and Jewish communities, in 70 countries around the world, providing social service support, poverty relief, job-training, Jewish cultural and educational opportunities, and disaster relief.
Describing the group’s efforts in the Former Soviet Union (FSU), the organization’s website notes that “JDC supports Jews in 600-plus locations, aiding elderly and impoverished families who live in each of Russia’s nine time zones. More than two decades after the fall of communism – which hindered the development of Jewish life in this vast country for over 70 years – JDC continues to create opportunities for Jews to reconnect to their tradition and to develop Jewish communities that are capable of responding effectively to the needs of their members.” In addition to providing for the physical needs of the Jewish population in the FSU, the organization works to revitalize Jewish life by “reconnecting Russian Jews who were cut off from Jewish tradition through high-quality Jewish family retreats, summer camps, and other creative Jewish Community Center programs.”
For more information about the JDC, visit www.jdc.org.