Largest Jewish Student Congress Ever in the Former Soviet Union
JERUSALEM – This year, decades after Communism put an end to the thriving cultural life of Jews in the former Soviet Union (FSU), Jewish university students will participate in the largest Jewish Student Congress ever in the FSU. From January 28 – February 2, 2003, 300 student leaders from over 60 FSU communities, and representing seven FSU republics and 11 time zones, will meet in Moscow for the Winter Hillel Leadership Congress. The Congress, entitled "Am Echad – One People," will construct the educational building blocks that will foster a common understanding and sense of "peoplehood" among FSU student participants.
"Jewish gatherings like this were forbidden just a few years ago," explains Rabbi Yossie Goldman, the founder and director of Hillel in the FSU. "The Hillel Congress offers students a momentous opportunity for Jewish learning, identity-building programs, and generating a sense of connection to the greater Jewish people," he asserts.
Students will be taught leadership skills in order to take ownership of their Hillel programs and to run Jewish programming in their cities. In special workshops, students will gather to envision the future of their communities, and discuss how to engage Jews who have been estranged from their people and culture for over 75 years. These student leaders may later take on professional and lay positions in the community, teaching Jewish traditions to the young, as well as to their parents and grandparents.
Hillel students are leading the way in instituting Jewish values and community-wide programming. "Hillel has helped me learn what it means to be Jewish," says Hillel student Nino Tavadze, "and I feel responsible for the future of the Jewish community here in Tbilisi, Georgia." Typical tasks of student leaders include preparing Shabbat celebrations for the community; empowering their peers in Jewish learning projects; visiting the homebound elderly in small towns in the periphery; and teaching the next generation in kindergartens and Sunday schools about the Jewish holidays.
Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life has been active in the FSU since 1994, when it established its first Hillel center in Moscow. The network has grown to 27 centers and is providing guidance and materials to an additional 60 nascent student groups -- from as far as the Caucasus Mountains of Tbilisi, Georgia, to scattered communities throughout Siberia, and the far eastern city of Khabarovsk, near the Chinese border. Hillel in the FSU was established through the support of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation in partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.