FSU Seminar

Vilnius, Lithuania and
Minsk, Belarus

The Hornstein-BGI FSU Seminar is an immersive, transformative learning opportunity for students in their second year of study.

It is carried out in partnership with the Brandeis Genesis Institute for Russian Jewry and made possible in part with support from the Genesis Philanthropy Group. 

Hornstein students visit Minsk JDC

Why I Carry a Used Food Stamp
 Card from the FSU in My Wallet

By Joel Abramson

Our personal perspective is something we can easily take for granted. As we move through life's rat maze, it's hard to look beyond our own needs and goals. Many kindhearted people look outside themselves and support programs in communities in need around the world. But when some of those communities are so far away, it can be difficult to appreciate the positive effects of that's taking place. This is one of the reasons I am so grateful to Hornstein and the Brandeis Genesis Institute for the opportunity to experience Lithuania and Belarus. I got to see firsthand programs and the people they serve.

We met with Ilana Levy, who represents the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in Minsk who provided our group with an insider’s guide to challenges they are tackling in the Jewish community. Working in 14 cities and 60 villages, the Minsk JDC is supporting more than 50,000 Jews. The growing challenge, Ilana says, is the rapidly aging community, in part due to high emigration rates of younger people who are seeking better quality of life in Europe, Israel, and the United States. High inflation and unemployment, and a regressing population leave many in the remaining Minsk Jewish community with poor health and sickness, often times completely unable to leave their homes.

Ilana took our group on a tour of the Jewish house, (which could best be described as an all-in-one Jewish super campus), where we were able to meet directly with the Jewish community. We sang happy birthday to a group of teens with special needs, we eavesdropped on a Holocaust survivor retelling his story, and we watched as little children played and learned at school. Teens and young professionals also use the campus as a place to meet and plan events, and praised the campus for its ability to bring the community together.

The Minsk JDC, with generous support from donors from around the world, tries to improve the quality of life as much as they are able by providing:

  • Food stamps for 6,000 people
  • Medical benefits for 5,000 people
  • Homecare for 2,000 people
  • Support for 2,000 children with special needs
  • And so much more

This direct service to the Jewish community in need is precisely why I strive to become a Jewish professional. Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh. We are responsible for all of the Jewish community, and it is our responsibility to ensure they are receiving the support and care they need, whether in our hometowns or around the world.

I now carry a used food stamp card from the FSU as a constant reminder every time I open my wallet that there is someone in need, and we must strive to ensure that they are not forgotten or left behind.