Amy Randel

Why I Care About Ukraine

Posted: April 29, 2014

Amy Randel is an event chair for Inside Jewish Ukraine in San Francisco on April 30. She is also a former JDC Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps Fellow.

Ukraine. You've seen it in the headlines, but why does it matter to you as an American? Why is Ukraine particularly important to you as an American Jew? I remember the call I received when I learned I had been selected to spend a year as a JDC Jewish Service Corps fellow in Kiev, Ukraine. Besides Googled images of stunning gold capped churches and rolling countryside, this former Soviet nation was a black box to me. Like most Americans, I had very little exposure and knew very little about the former Soviet Union and this rich bed of Jewish cultural history. As far as I was concerned, Jewish life in Ukraine the old country, shtetyl life was a past tense reality.

Over the course of my year working in Ukraine I did have the opportunity to visit sites of significance in Jewish history, and was able to flesh out some of those shtetyl stereotypes. Standing at the sites I had only read about impacted me deeply. However what really changed me forever about my time in Ukraine was experiencing the present tense Jewish life.


Amy, far-left, as a JDC Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps Fellow in Ukraine

As American Jews, we have a way of taking our peoplehood and identities for granted. However Jewish life there is not a given like in the states, but something the community is slowly carving a path for in an uphill battle, in a complicated nation. Nearly every aspect of Jewish life in Ukraine is a point of contention and active debate. 

Maybe you have a connection to Ukraine through family roots, maybe you grew up hearing stories of the old country and want to know more. I encourage you to come this Wednesday learn about the current situation in Ukraine, and what's happening on the ground. I invite you to begin to more deeply understand the questions of identity and peoplehood that your Jewish counterparts, and peers, are being forced to confront right now.

I encourage you to come and step outside of our comfortable American Jewish experience. Transport yourself for a few hours to a place where young Jews- people who are no different except the make of their passport- are asking themselves, what does it mean to build a future in a nation where things are tumultuous. Come engage with planning for a future where nothing about the future is guaranteed.  If nothing else you can get up to speed on current events, but I wager you walk away from this evening with a deeper appreciation, and more pointed, penetrating questions. Hope to see you Wednesday evening!


Join us for Inside Jewish Ukraine on April 30 in San Francisco!



Ukraine's Story of Renewal, Seen Through its Teens

Posted: June 22, 2012

I had known for a long time that I wanted to spend time abroad when I graduated college. When I heard about the Jewish Service Corps from a friend, I was thrilled. It combined my dream of going abroad with my passion for working in the Jewish community, which I had spent much of my college years doing and am very passionate about. 

When I initially applied for the program, I had no strong preference where I was placed. I had considered Rwanda.
When I got the email saying they would like to place me in Kiev, Ukraine doing Jewish renewal work. I said, “Done.” 

The first time I spoke on the phone with my soon to be supervisor in Ukraine, he told me this is a very challenging part of the world, and I would have to learn Russian. I said, “Done.” 

I arrived in Ukraine knowing little of what to expect; I’ve since understood that the line between ‘adventure hungry’ and nativite is a very fine and easy traversed line.

I feel lucky to have been placed in Kiev. The Jewish community has a long, vibrant, tortured history, one that has produced incredible Jewish leaders and endured terrible atrocities in the Holocaust.

With this in mind, the story of Jewish renewal in Ukraine is one that is both inspiring and truly remarkable. Much of my work here has been centered around the effort to grow one of Kiev’s teen youth groups, and strengthen their programing.

Global Exchange

One of the most exciting things I’ve had the pleasure of working on is connecting teens in Kiev with other teens around the world, in particular Kiev’s sister city, Chicago. Thanks to the fundraising initiative from the Chicago BBYO teens, we will be sending two teen ambassadors from Kiev to America this summer. 

As a firm believer in the immense value in cultural exchange, this project has been near to my heart. Not only will the Ukrainian teens be able to bring home what they learn, but they will bring a small amount of insight into a Jewish world which is usually almost entirely out of the purview of most American Jews today. They will be part of bringing Ukrainian Jewry into the present tense for many American teens.

Local Responsibility

Another project the teens are taking on illustrates the sometimes striking intersection between the undeniably horrific past of Ukraine, and the vibrancy of Jewish life today.

The teens are creating an online interactive map of former shtetyls and mass grave throughout Ukraine, complete with photos, directions, and information about the history of each place. 

I had the opportunity to go along with about 20 teens from our teen club and a few staff members on one of these information gathering missions to the formerly very jewish city in western Ukraine of Lydsk. There we spent a day travelling the periphery of the city visiting several places of former Jewish life.

We would say a few words at each site and take many many photos, then the teens would resume being teens - looking at their phones, gossiping. In my youth group we discussed Seinfeld and painted a room in our shul; in their youth group they visit sites of mass destruction.

Bringing it Home

I hope by hearing about the inspiring work being done here to rebuild Jewish life, as well as preserve history, that others will come to understand Ukraine in the present tense as well. I hope to continue learning about this community and look for more ways to build international bridges in our global Jewish world.




Apr 29, 2014 6:13:06 PM
Amy Randel uploaded new photos into Ukraine
Apr 29, 2014 5:44:05 PM


Amy Randel
Joined: December 4, 2011






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