BGI Global Teen Fellowship seminar at Sturbridge, MA

On October 11th, 2013, 16 high school students from the U.S. and Canada gathered together at Sturbridge, MA for the opening seminar of the BGI Global Teen Fellowship. 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 for a final seminar in Washington D.C..

Bertha Rakhunov, BGI fellow ’14 reflects on her experience at the seminar:

Growing up in a town with only few Russian Jewish families, it felt so nice to spend an entire weekend surrounded by people of my age from all parts of North America, all of whom share the same background as me.  Together, we spent three days enjoying each other’s company, learning about ourselves and exploring our Russian Jewish roots and family history.

On Friday night we each had the opportunity to start Shabbat with self-exploration. In a calm and relaxing atmosphere we took a journey into our personal lives, thinking about our dreams, aspirations, Jewish journeys and more. Being a high school student, you are always too busy with school and extracurricular and you rarely get the time to step back and pause. It felt really good to have the time to think about myself, where I come from and where I belong.  The next day we got an opportunity to open a window into our past. Through an amazing installation created by two Russian Jewish artists from NYC we embarked on a historical journey into our pasts and the collective Russian Jewish history. We examined what life was like in the former Soviet Union and discussed some of the obstacles our families had to overcome to immigrate to America. Through personal stories of my friends and Jewish mementos we all brought from home we came to a realization that no matter where in the Soviet Union our families came from, they all suffered the same hardship, battles, and challenges to give our generation a better life to live.  From this weekend I learned a lot about myself, my family and about what it means to be a Russian Jew.

Not only was this weekend an educational experience, but I also got to reunite with some of my closest friends whom I met during the past summer. We all got to hang out, laugh together, socialize, and just share our stories with each other. This retreat helped us reconnect and strengthen our friendship. I now understand that no matter where I go I have friends who will always be there for me! I can’t wait to go to D.C. in April.