BGI Global Teen Fellowship seminar in Jerusalem, Israel for FSU, Germany and Israel fellows

On the last weekend of October, the BGI Global Teen Fellowship held its opening seminar in the city of Zion, also known as Jerusalem. Over twenty high school students from Germany, Israel and the Former Soviet Union gathered together for a weekend full of meaningful, intellectual and fun activities. The fellowship is uniquely designed to connect and inspire talented Russian-speaking high school students from around the world who wish to be of service to the Jewish community. The seminar was dedicated to the exploration of Jewish identity, Russian Jewish heritage and ways of engaging in Jewish communal life. During the next few months participants will take part in a series of online seminars and implement individual projects in their respective communities. In April 2014, the fellows will reconvene in Israel for the closing seminar and a festive graduation ceremony. 

Lena Trifonov, BGI Fellow ‘14, reflects on her experience at the seminar:

I have always known I was Jewish, and I have always known I was Russian. But it wasn’t until very recently that I’ve realized I am a Russian Jew, part of a unique community that is now spread all over the world, yet has a great common culture and values.
After attending Genesis and BIMA at the Brandeis University this summer we gathered in Jerusalem for a weekend of self-exploration and learning. Some of us were visiting Israel for the first time, and we were all very excited to be reunited.

Our Seminar started with a Jerusalem Quest in Jerusalem’s Old City which gave us a taste of Jerusalem’s beauty, rich culture and history. The next day was a very spiritual Friday. As part of Kabbalat Shabbat, we got to choose the type of service to attend and gathered with the local community to welcome Shabbat.  I do not normally go to a synagogue with my family. Where I live we only have traditional Orthodox synagogues where I always feel out of place. The separation between men and women bothers me as equality is one of my key values…  However, the Reform service “Nava Tehila” was a wonderful new experience. For the first time, going to the synagogue felt right. The service was musical, spiritual and personal. It really connected me to the Jewish tradition and prayer. This is something I got to experience thanks to the BGI Global Teen Fellowship program.  

On Saturday, Sasha Ben Ari lead us into an interesting conversation about what it means for us to be Russian Jews. Although we come from different countries, we have a great common denominator – our Russian Jewish culture and identity is what unites us all. Some of us were not born in Russia, yet we still know who Chiburashka is, and we do eat Borsh for lunch… Later that day we got to build our own Shtetl and learn about the history and struggles of our ancestors in the Russian Empire. It was never easy for the Jews living in Russia, being a minority in a country that at times oppressed them and their values. Nevertheless, nowadays the Russian Jewish community is strong and I am proud to be a part of it. This is the most important lesson I’ve learned from the seminar.

After spending an amazing time with people who became my dear friends over the past few months and madrichim I had the pleasure to get to know, it was time to say goodbye. We performed the Havdalah ceremony just like we used to do at Brandeis. People who looked at us from aside could see we truly formed a community. I can’t wait to start working on my project and see everyone again in April!