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Vkonnekte Builds Jewish Connections in the Former Soviet Union

by Hillel News |Sep 08, 2011|Comments

Students at the Vkonnekte Forum participate activities exercises to learn how to deepen relationships and advance Jewish journeys.

Can an initiative developed in North America for Jewish students work in the former Soviet Union?

Participants in Hillel's August Vkonnekte Forum in Kharkov, Ukraine, know that it can, and does.

Vkonnekte, which means "sharing a connection" in Russian, teaches Jewish students techniques to help them engage their peers so that they can advance their Jewish journeys together throughout the year. Yasha Moz, Hillel's assistant director for international projects, explains that Vkonnekte interns are "connectors" who form mini-communities that are linked to dozens of others in their area and around the world. Adapted from the Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative first developed in North America, Vkonnekte is now in its first year in the FSU following a four-month pilot program.

"Vkonnekte teaches us how to communicate it's cool to be a Jew," explains Yulia Bocharova, one of the student interns from the Vkonnekte pilot.

The August forum in Kharkhov brought together 65 students and 15 staff from eight communities in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. During a mock "press conference" at the beginning of the forum new connectors asked Vkonnekte veterans many insightful questions about their experiences with the pilot program. The interns were then trained at the series of the skills-building workshops, motivated by the team-building activities and inspired by a beautiful joint Shabbat experience.

The JDC's Buncher Community Leadership Program led skill-building sessions in communications, networking, Jewish values and working through challenges. Students were particularly impressed by Lena Buchumensky, a successful social entrepreneur from Israel who built up a network of Russian-speaking young Israelis from a few friends to a few thousand members. Fima Rinenberg, a Russian-speaking actor\director, led a creative text-study session that captivated participants for nearly three hours. For most students it was their first such experience and many shared their delight to find so much relevance in the ancient texts for their own lives.

Vkonnekte has big goals, says Moz. "We hope to build relationships with more than 2,500 previously unengaged Jewish students per year and to expand to more communities across the former Soviet Union," he says. "I am thrilled to see interns and those in their networks to be excited to be part of the Jewish community."

Reported by Hillel Communications Intern Jake Shapiro.

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