Anna's Story

Walking into a room, at the Jewish Community Center (JCC), you would never know that Anna has changed so much in just four years. Right now, she is a leader in the Jewish community. Not only that, she is also a lay leader, something that is not the norm in the current structure of the city’s community. In the coming weeks she will be organizing different groups and being a hostess at an upcoming Shabbat dinner at the JCC. But it was not always like this for Anna.

Anna was a dancer growing up. She worked at night clubs and spent a few months in Turkey living what was a luxurious lifestyle. Every day, along with her colleagues and friends, she was served fancy foods, picked up by personal drivers, protected by bodyguards, and relaxed by the beach. She loved her life, and looks back on it fondly. She was beautiful and she lived from one moment to the next without much concerns.

One evening, at a night club in Kharkov, she caught the eye of Jenya. Jenya, whose grandfather was a rabbi with many cousins having made aliyah in the 1990s, fell in love with Anna. He began taking Anna to the JCC for Shabbat and different events. Anna was scared off in this new setting. “How come everyone is so nice? Why do they all hug and kiss me? I just met them.” It was an uncomfortable experience for her to say the least. One day, Jenya told her about Metsuda, a Jewish leadership program in Ukraine and the former Soviet Union (FSU) for young adults. The participants of the program have to create their own projects and try to attract Jews to different facets of the community. Jenya had already completed the program and was at the time a madrich – group leader.

Anna was jealous. She went home and told her mom about Metsuda. She finally asked her mom “Why can’t I be Jewish?”

Her mom’s response was “but you are.”

Anna was twenty-two years old when she found out her dad was Jewish. This is a common theme in the FSU. She called her grandmother to confirm this news. Her grandmother denied it. Another common theme in the FSU as people tried to hide this part of their identity for so long which leaves many finally admitting it on their death beds. Anna then called her great-aunt who said “of course we are.”

Anna graduated Metsuda two years ago. Last year, she was a madricha and has now helped form the board for post-Metsuda which is creating the framework for what Jewish life will be like for those that have completed the program. This is a volunteer position that Anna has fully embraced, as have others in Kiev, Odessa, Lviv and other cities throughout Ukraine. Where this program goes will influence the future of Jewish communities throughout the FSU.

Two years ago, Anna married Jenya and one day they will start a beautiful Jewish family. Jenya and Anna returned to the Metsuda seminar this week to watch two graduating participants enter the chuppah to start their own Jewish lives together too.

Anna is just one example of why the Joint Distribution Committee is here. The wedding at the Metsuda seminar is just a second. There are thousands of more examples of people rediscovering their Jewish identity. It is a wonderful time to be in Ukraine.


Written By

November 27, 2012 at 1:14 PM



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