“If you will it, it is no dream” - Theodore Herzl
Fifteen years ago the scene would have seemed improbable at best: Members of the Russian and Ukrainian Jewish communities sitting around a table arguing passionately about the future of Jewish student life. Yet this is exactly what took place in Moscow and Kiev in April and July during the first board meetings of Hillel Ukraine and Hillel Russia.
When Hillel in the former Soviet Union (FSU) was established in 1994 as a partnership of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation (CLSFF), the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee (JDC), and Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, the focus was on developing a generation of young Jews with strong Jewish identities who were committed to building vibrant Jewish life in their communities. Almost two decades later, the fruits of these efforts are being reaped and Hillel alumni are playing a prominent role in guiding these efforts forward.
Sasha Granovsky first came to Hillel Kiev as a student lacking a Jewish background and looking to learn more about Jewish history and tradition. He quickly became a Hillel student activist and even worked part-time as Hillel’s administrator. Fast-forward 15 years and Sasha is opening a Hillel Ukraine board meeting as its first chair. Now a college graduate and a businessman, he urges his business peers to support Hillel. "This is truly a historic moment as Hillel Ukraine advances to the next stage in its development,” says Sasha. “This fact is especially important for me, as I used to be a Hillel activist in the early days of the organization and thus know how much students benefit from involvement with Hillel.”
After the meeting, several board members flew to Kharkov to celebrate the 13th anniversary/bar-mitzvah of Hillel Kharkov. The festive presentation was opened by a 13 year-old boy whose parents met each other during the first year of Hillel’s operation and subsequently married. The moving program was followed by performances of various student groups, an award ceremony for student leaders, and speeches from distinguished guests who highlighted the many contributions of Hillel to the local community.
Meanwhile in Moscow, a group of businessmen and women who care deeply about the Jewish future of Russia and who believe that Hillel has a central role to play in creating that future, gathered for an inaugural meeting of the Hillel Russia board. They engaged in a spirited conversation about the organization’s mission, vision, goals, and strategy, and committed to continuing their involvement moving forward.
With their continued leadership and support, Hillel is poised to expand its reach among the thousands of young Jews with Jewish roots seeking a connection to Jewish life across the former Soviet Union.