In recent days, our communities and our country have felt so broken and so divided. As we grapple with solutions to our many challenges here at home, we are also thinking about our relationships as global Jewish citizens as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sicken millions and ravage the global economy.
To discuss ways in which Jewish communities are connected to and caring for each other, and their non-Jewish neighbors, CJP convened two experts.
Aviva Klompas, associate vice president of CJP’s Israel and global citizenship initiative, joined with Asher Ostrin, CEO of the JDC, the leading global Jewish humanitarian organization, in a discussion moderated by Rabbi Marc Baker, CJP’s president and CEO.
Listen to their conversation or read the transcript below.
Rabbi Marc Baker: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you so much for being with us. As we know our community and our world has been reeling from the global Covid-19 pandemic – a health and economic crisis that’s really changed life as we know it, and whose impacts. I think we’re just beginning to understand its impact.
And, of course it is a particularly challenging week here in our community and across America as we wake up again to the additional pandemic.
Of our history of racial injustice here in this country. And as we grapple with our community’s role and responsibility, both for our brothers and sisters of color and in creating the American society that we aspire to live in.
Yet even as we face these challenges here in home as part of the Jewish people that spans the entire globe and has done so for thousands of years. We’re also acutely aware that our concentric circles of responsibility extend beyond Greater Boston and even beyond the United States to Israel and to communities around the world.
So, just as we did last week with Israeli political scientist Reuven Hazan, today we’re going to take the chance to learn together and reflect together about life, way beyond the walls of our community here in Boston.
CJP is proud of our long history of engagement with Israel; in particular with our sister city of Haifa and we’re proud of our historic support for vulnerable Jews around the world, wherever they are specifically also our partnership with our sister city Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine.
We do this through all of our work, which we call Israel and Global Jewish Citizenship, led by my colleague and one today’s guests , and we also do this in deep partnership with one of our historic partners, the Joint Distribution Committee JDC which you can think of is the long arm of the American Jewish community that reaches around the world.
Led by my friend and a person who’s touched and changed lives in places that most of us don’t even know exist. Our other special guests this morning with whom of Aviva and I are so happy to be in conversation. Welcome to Boston, Asher.
I’m going to introduce these two leaders and then we’re going to have a facilitated conversation for about 30 minutes or so and give them a chance to share their perspectives and to engage with one another. You can feel free to put questions in the chat during the conversation we’ve received some ahead of time. And after about a half an hour will shift to Q and A and, hopefully we’ll get a chance to address some of the questions from all of you.
So without further ado, Asher Ostrin has more than three decades of senior leadership experience at JDC, the leading global Jewish humanitarian organization. A key advisor to JDC operations in Europe, Asia and North Africa, he helped design and lead JDC’s transformative work reviving Jewish life and eating needy Jews in the former Soviet Union, for more than 20 years. He previously served as the organization’s senior executive for international affairs and again we’re so happy you’re with us this afternoon.
Aviva Klompas is the Associate Vice President of CJP’s Israel and Global Jewish Citizenship. Prior to joining CJP Aviva worked as a senior policy advisor in the Ontario government supporting efforts to resettle Syrian refugees across the province of Ontario and from 2013 to 2015 served as the Director of speech writing for Israel’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York City as a speechwriter for Ambassador Ron Prosor. Aviva crafted highly acclaimed speeches that advanced Israel’s policies and informed public opinion. Her work has appeared in the pages of the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy and the Jerusalem Post and we are so lucky to have Aviva leading with us here CJP in here in Boston.
Asher, Aviva welcome. I’m really looking forward to the conversation with both of you. I personally have been inspired by getting to know each of you and learn so much from your personal journeys and your personal stories. And I think it’s really important. Before we get into what’s going on in the world and our particular organizations that we get to know that human beings were doing this incredible work. So I’d love to start by asking each of you maybe after you can go first, just tell us a few minutes about your background, your story and kind of what led you into this work.
Asher Ostrin: Thank you, Marc. And thank you to see JP, thanks for the invitation to go here today and thank you for many years of very fruitful and meaningful partnership and I do want to start by saying that, well, we’ll all going I’m speaking from my home in Jerusalem and while we’re all going experiencing that pandemic and it’s aftershocks the financial and economic implications, we are also very concerned for friends and our colleagues and for all of you experiencing the social unrest in the United States. We are concerned for your welfare and we send you our love and our concern.
I think it’s hard for me, having worked at JDC for 34 years to separate me and JDC. It’s such a part of who I am, so I thought maybe what I’d start with is a story about what JDC meant to me from the very beginning. And I think that that also given me some insight into who I am. I started with JDC in 1986 in the Director Office in Vienna and the Vienna office was traditionally as the first stop for Jewish refugees mostly going from Eastern Europe, but when I got there, many of them actually were young Jews being smuggled out of Iran to save the boys from conscription and and to give the girls some sort of opportunity in life. I was sitting in my office one day early on. I had maybe been in the office for two weeks or two or three weeks in the position news a bang on the door before I say come in.
A big bear of a man barreled through the door and came down the length of the office and embraced me in a bear hug, and for a minute wasn’t clear whether he was gonna kiss me or put a knife in my back. He was very agitated. He was speaking in three languages. I didn’t understand at the time and the addition Russian and Ukrainian and he when I brought in a translator. He told me the following story. He was a child in the early 1930s and Ukraine, and there was a famine and he and his mother were really nearing the end. Oy a truck came through and every dollar that had a mezuzah on it dropped a big sack of flour.
And he said that night, he was little child, he was sleeping and he heard his mother sobbing and he came in and said, ‘Mama, Why are you crying. Our lives were saved or something to eat. And she took me by the hand and she took me over to the sack of flour and in Cyrillic it said a gift of the Joint (JDC).
She said those people saved our lives and we didn’t have a chance to say thank you. If you ever meet somebody from the joint. I want you to say in my name and your name. Thank you for doing that here. He was in my office a Jewish refugee from the Soviet Union 1986 straighten himself up and said, thank you. And as you walked out the door. I was in a state of shock and he got to the door and he looked. He looked up having word, and he said, under his breath, Mama, mama said he was the Jews life was saved twice by this organization and everything that came after that for me with the joint. The 34 years that followed that role frame by that experience, it’s, building Jewish life and saving Jewish lives and it’s been a real privilege of mind to have been part of that, as Marc mentioned Vienna working in Eastern Europe in the former Soviet Union, and now has the interim CEO of the joint.
Aviva Klompas: Thank you so much Marc. Thank you for the introduction and Usher. It’s such a pleasure and a privilege to be in conversation with you, and welcome to everybody who joined us.
I thought perhaps I’ll share two examples from my own biography that have really helped to shape how I think about my work today and what makes me passionate about the work that I do.
So the first is that after I finished college I spent a year living and studying in Israel. And one incident that stands out in my mind was having the opportunity to meet Anatoly Sharansky and I’ve had a chance to meet him a few times since then, and you should ask me about it. Not in the webinar about the Russian that he taught me which will never leave me with that very first time that I met him. I was in awe because I was meeting this heroic warrior for social justice and Israel and a champion of Jewish people everywhere.
He told us his story. And I remember listening to it and just trying to perceive the amount of courage and determination that he had to have in order to live for what he believed in and inspired me so tremendously that I decided that I wanted to go to graduate school to study public policy. And I know that both then and now people are very cynical about government, but I actually have this deep love for government and believe quick fervently that if you have the right people in the right place, who can touch the levers of public policy, you can make a tremendous impact on how the society functions. And I think that’s true in the nonprofit world as well.
The second really formative experience for me about how I look at the world was that time that I spent as the speech writer for Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations and mostly for the experience of working at the United Nations and in this aspect there are 193 Member States of the United Nations.
When you begin to work there and get to know people, you get an appreciation for just how very narrow your own understanding of the world is so if you consider 193 countries, but just 87 of them are democracies. So that’s 45% and that represents, by far, a minority of people who live around the world. So the world that we understand it’s just the world that we know
and when you begin to right size your understanding of the world in your own mind. So then I began to develop this real curiosity for what else is out there.
And then I really wanted to go and look and understand it. And the first thing that smacks you is the injustice and the inequality in the world.
But not long after that is the people that are trying to address it. And that’s the the real inspiration that I find in the work is the people that are out there doing that every day. And that’s what energizes me.
Marc Baker: Thanks so much to both of you.
So Asher, I think we need to hear a little bit about JDC and on the one hand, it’s, it’s just, it’s been a fixture of our community and of American Jewish life and if the global Jewish people for so long. And I think a lot of us here just might not fully understand what it is and kind of how it does its work. So can you tell us just a little bit about JDC, how it works, and, you know, maybe what some of the priorities are right now.
Asher Ostrin: Well, we work today in 70 countries around the world. We work wherever there are Jews are Jewish communities in need. The goal, as I mentioned before, is to build the Jewish life and to save Jewish lives. Number one most important is where Jews are at risk. And there are places in the world where they’re at risk, where Jews are not treated like everybody else.
We can talk about Venezuela, we can talk about Iran, we can unfortunately things are moving in that direction in a place like Turkey for those Jews when they need help when their communities are going through a difficult period where there are individuals who have to be rescued the JDC is the place that is their address, that’s the place that they turn to. We work in Israel. We work with the most vulnerable Jewish populations around the world. And we’re looking really to empower Jews and their Jewish communities to move them towards the state of self-sufficiency were there on poor Jews, as I mentioned before, the risk. The JDC is there for them.
Marc Baker: Thanks, and just at this moment in time when you think about the Join’s work. Are there any particular, and I’m not even talking COVID yet – we’ll get to that in a few minutes – but just kind of big areas of priority that really kind of drive your work?
Asher Ostrin: Sure, so we look, for example, when the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, we faced over 2 million Jews who had very few links to the Jewish people and there was tremendous poverty or the elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union, and both of those instances the JDC stepped in to help them create communities were involved in it, both formal and informal education campaign to try and give them a sense of pride to build their own private Jewish identities and to connect them to community and to create those communities that will be able to provide those Jews with their needs. In addition to that, we helped and continue to help today.
Today, for example, we have over 90,000 elderly Jews throughout the former Soviet Union who live on pensions that are often below the poverty line that don’t have access or they basically can’t finish the month they don’t have their pensions don’t cover basic needs food, medicine, those that need homecare we’ve created local organizations as part of those communities to service those Jews, and we do that, not just in the former Soviet Union, but in places that some that are more exotic something less exotic from Tunisia and Morocco to Latvia and Lithuania to Mumbai wherever they’re Jewish communities that are in need.
Marc Baker: Thanks. So coming back to our community and thinking about CJP and our work with Aviva. Can you talk a little bit about our partnership with JDC, etc. and you know how that partnership works and how it fits into our broader vision of Israel and global Jewish citizenship
Aviva Klompas: You said in your introduction that about a year ago, we decided at CJ P to bring together the various Israel and international components of our work under the umbrella of this new department called Israel and global Jewish citizenship. The reason we did that is the idea is to recognize and appreciate the interconnectedness of individuals of communities, Jews and non-Jews and generally people around the world and when you look at it through this lens JDC is an obvious and incredibly important partner to us in our work for all the reasons that he’s just outlined. When we partner together. It’s not really just about the programs because we’re actually connected by the shared desire to support Jewish communities and invest in the resiliency and vibrancy of our people and our future and really people’s everywhere.
And all for just a few examples of what this practically looks like for us at CJP
So you both alluded to this before but GTC is essentially synonymous with supporting Jews around the world and in the former Soviet Union. We’re not on that scale by any means, but we do have our own historic partnership with the community in the former Soviet Union. It’s the natural in the Ukraine, which is the fourth largest city. In Ukraine, the reason we were partner together with Boston is that we both have a river running through the middle of our cities. And an interest in medical in the medical industry and communities and that’s enough of a reason for us to be partners for 26 years and over the course of those 26 years we’ve been supporting that community with medical services and elder care and support for persons with disabilities. Along with investing in Jewish renewal and community revitalization. We’re not experts in this JD sees experts in this and so we frequently turn to the JD, see who’s also working in that community as a close partnership together. Another example of the ways that we build together as partners. His appearance at the center, which is a program that we have to JP are incredibly proud of, which was founded in 2011 in our partner city of high five in Israel. An idea was to create a center to support at risk families and the most hard hit at risk families tend to be those that are socio economically disadvantaged, they tend to be from minority communities, the Russian immigrant community Ethiopian community Arab and so on and so forth.
We set up the center and it proved to be a very successful model. And we wanted to scale it but didn’t know how so we turn to the JD see five years ago for help, creating a national model and today, both organizations can proudly say that there’s eight sites in northern Israel that have helped support thousands upon thousands of families.
My third example is the interest that both of our organizations have in developing countries, so two and a half years ago, we began an initiative. At CJP called Project Inspire that’s very much born from my own time and experience working at the United Nations. While I was there. I learned a lot about international development and was particularly fascinated by the role that Israel is playing. In developing countries around the world because we don’t hear about it, but the work that they’re doing is quite fast and the ways that they’re partnering with communities to save lives and improve the quality of life. So we founded Project Inspire to give young professionals here in Boston, the opportunity to go into see it firsthand and to understand this notion of tikkun olam, and we’ve traveled together to Kenya, Uganda, Guatemala, India and Nepal. We’re a nonprofit based in Boston, that doesn’t have expertise in in these countries and so we have to turn to partners and a year and a half ago, we turn to JVC for help to run our project in India. What stands out to me in my mind from that particular trip was how how incredible. It was to get to know the Indian Jewish community because it’s incredibly vibrant, and it’s incredibly vibrant, because the JVC. She is really at the core of the community and Mumbai supporting them and very involved in Jewish renewal.
Marc Baker: Thank you. Also such a great example of not only this kind of global, local partnership, but also have the new and the old you know you have these two historic organizations that are continuing to push on how to innovate in order to continue to support and revive to life around the world. Thank you.
I’m going to turn to ask her, and ask you a question about this term. So we chose the term global Jewish citizenship. It is a mouthful I think a lot of people ask questions about it. We chose it with intentionality and one of the reasons why we felt we needed a new term is because I would say, especially when I think about the next generation of Jews and Jewish identity across the world. But here in America in the 21st century, like the
additional mental models of how people understand what it means to be a Jew in the world are just changing and I think we need to develop new language for that. I know JDC does this when it brings young people around the world. So I would love to ask you, like, what does that term mean to us global citizenship and how does it connect to JDC and its work.
Asher Ostrin: Well, first of all, thank you for the question. I think it’s a great question and I actually think while the term is a mouthful. I think it’s essentially a wonderful term because what a citizenship involves citizenship involves responsibility rights and I think introducing people to the notion that be part of the Jewish people incorporates of those, I think, is is critical. You know, I’m reminded again I’m as you can tell I love the study of history and particularly the history of the joint when the joint was founded in 1914. It was founded it was begun by the American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire was member named Perry Morgan who was a German Jew lived in New York and in the summer of 1914 he made a tour of the Ottoman Empire, and he came to Palestine, and he was horrified by what he found that the poverty and how difficult it was for the people. We’re living here and simply tell them to his friends back in New York City needs $50,000 to help these Jews and they quickly collected the money, but they didn’t tell me beyond that they brought together a group of disparate Jews who were in New York at the time who didn’t get along with one another.
The Orthodox and the Zionists and the East German Jews all sat around the table and decided that together, they were going to respond to Jewish needs. Hence the name of the joint not particularly felicitous term not nearly as lovely as global Jewish citizens, but that’s what they founded this organization called the Joint. The founding principle was that they would help Jews in need anywhere in the world, regardless of religious affiliation or political allegiance, or even a Jewish identity.
If you were Jewish, you’re entitled to the help of this organization they were going to act in concert and have a sense of responsibility for the welfare and the well-being of Jews wherever they may be. And in a sense that principle has stayed with the joint and I think become almost a founding principle of American jewelry, because this was the first time. That this concept really surfaced of American jewelry Jews coming together, irrespective of their backgrounds to help Jews elsewhere. And to me, that is what global Jewish citizenship is about that you care about the fate and the welfare of Jews wherever they may be because you belong, and they belong to this amazing group of people called the Jewish people and you help you and you do this in Boston, all the time you support us.
One little anecdote that I was just reminded when we first started working in the former Soviet Union, one of the things that we gave out medical equipment and I brought a wheelchair to a woman in St. Petersburg. She refused to receive it she wouldn’t take it and I couldn’t understand why. She said ‘you must want something in return. I said, No, just what you are.’
She said, you know, you don’t understand. She said, I have not been a good, daughter of the Jewish people. She said ‘the Six Day War meant nothing to me, Israel means nothing to me to be frank being Jewish really doesn’t mean very much to me. Why would you want to give me something?’
The answer was that you’re a citizen and I’m a citizen of the Jewish people and therefore we have a responsibility for you and to me that incorporates what this notion is, and that motivates but that’s what the JDC is.
Marc Baker: Thanks everybody.
Aviva Klompas: I have been told that Global Jewish Citizenship is a mouthful, but I have to say I love it so much and I’m so proud to do it. And actually, Asher was speaking felt even more proud to do it. You really spoke to what fuels me about this and I’ll just step back and say, on a global level, I think there’s just something fundamental that connects Jewish people. There are 15 million of us living in different places speaking different languages, having very different life experiences.But I believe that there’s this thread that that connects us and it’s somewhat intangible, but every now and then we can feel it. So, it’s that twinge of recognition, you get when you’re out somewhere and you just see someone wearing begin to be or you hear a few words of Hebrew being spoken.
Or traveling in a new city and you pass a synagogue, for the first time. And that’s exciting. And you take a picture and send it to your family. So, so why is that it’s because there is something fundamental that is connecting us or it’s the sense of pride that we feel that we learn that organizations like the JDC are taking care of people around the world and exactly as you said we’re not doing it. We’re not meeting those people, but we feel this great sense of pride, knowing that a member of our tribe is taking care of a member of another member of our tribe, and it’s incredibly powerful to feel connected to people in this way, but we don’t have any language to explain what it is or why it is and that’s what I’m interested in understanding is giving words to why that is.
Because Global Citizenship is about finding a way to express what that thread is so giving us words and values and common experiences. So, it doesn’t matter where you live, or what you experienced, we still have something common between us. Global Citizenship is exactly as I said, it’s about knowing that your life is tied to the lives of other people who are outside your own family or local community. It’s about having a better idea and understanding of the world and its people, because I believe that understanding brings about connection. Connection will often lead to a feeling of mutual responsibility and Asher said that at beginning of his of his answer, but I want to amplify it. It’s called Global Jewish citizenship because inherent in the notion of citizenship is the idea that there are privileges and responsibilities that come along with being a citizen and we are incredibly privileged to be able to engage in the world in the way that we are able to. If you’re engaged in the world and you have to look at it for what it is and you see the inequality and you see that suffering that I described earlier, but you also see the goodness and the inspiration and the kindness and the compassion of other people.
And that’s all the components of our work.
Marc Baker: Thanks, and all that talk about connectedness and interconnectedness is a perfect segue to this global pandemic.
You know what a powerful time to be thinking about this general notion that even though we can’t see and feel it and we know we’re part of something larger and that’s that we have a longing for it and that we know it.
We needed that during a time when we are literally socially isolated from each other. But let me ask you to talk about what this pandemic is meant for for our work.
Asher, maybe you can start and talk a little bit about how COVID-19 has either shifted the focus and priorities are the JDC or some of the good work that you’ve had to do in the face of this health and economic crisis and then maybe you could share a little bit about this from your perspective.
Asher Ostrin: You know, there are two things that struck me. First, it was this tremendous outpouring wherever we were both here in Israel and in communities around the world, this notion of volunteerism that that people stepped up and they were prepared in many instances, I have to say, even at great personal risk because to go out of the one of their homes to provide the food or the medicine or basic services to the elderly who are shut ins here in Israel. There was Council and volunteers which the JDC founded six years ago over 100,000 volunteers and many of those volunteers in a regular basis.
They were exposing themselves potentially to the virus and yes they were covered up and they wore masks and so on, but it would have been much more comfortable to stay at home and what struck me as a template is conversations with some of them. And this was really brought home in the last couple of weeks. But what’s going on in the United States.
And the value of the sanctity of human life that here, they were going to help elderly, whether it was in Dnepropetrovsk or in Caracas, or in Milan, or in your home.
They were dealing with the elderly, many of whom were housebound many who were nearly dead and they’ll never get better. They’ll never fully heal. And yet it was critical that these people be able to show them the order to demonstrate in some way that the sanctity of human life is a primary Jewish value.
And it just, it’s such a stark contrast to seeing what had that basically kicked off the social unrest in the United States that horrible murder and the whole notion of dignity and that people were prepared to give of themselves and their time to make sure that those in need, who are part of the same people, this notion of Jewish citizenship.
Then, prepare to go to such great distances in order to demonstrate their concern for others, not just to talk about it, but actually do things.
It was tremendously moving for me and this whole issue and notion of a voluntourism altruism, that the COVID really I think spotlighted this in the Jewish people.
Marc Baker: Aviva, before I come to you. I just want to, I want to mention that a couple of questions that have come up already and just to observe in your language Asher and yours to have Aviva, the interplay between human life and this concept of Jewish citizenship in Jewish people. That we have the universal and the particular kind of playing out there and obviously global citizenship has to do with us being part of an interconnected global world of human beings.
A couple of people have asked to what degree does JDC also work with non-Jews and just can you say a few words about the degree to which kind of human life here really extends beyond just Jewish lives but to anyone who’s in need.
Asher Ostrin: I have two examples. One, we have an extensive program in Ethiopia, I’m working with farmers to bring Israeli technology to help improve the yield on their crops and basically their standard up to raise their standard of living.
Related to the COVID issue is here in Israel. There are, as you may know, many asylum seekers who aren’t instantly recognized by the government and you’re not entitled to all sorts of services. They’re not yet citizens at all and then JDC began a program which they eventually brought the government into to provide the basic needs of these asylum seekers. We’re talking about basic needs. We’re talking about diapers. We’re talking about medicine; we’re talking about food.
And I have to say that it’s been a tremendous amount of pride progress. These are people who really have no anchors, otherwise they are left to their own devices. And that was just socially unacceptable to us. And so you’re involved.
Thanks, and even maybe you can talk a little bit about your perspective on COVID-19 and what it’s meant for our work or Israel in global Jewish through citizenship, more broadly.
Aviva Klompas: Absolutely. And I’ll just add to that last question about working with Jews and non-Jews for us. A lot of our programming is aimed at the non-Jewish community. So, I would say Jewish citizenship is fueled by Jewish values. But when you think about it, is going out into the world that’s inclusive of everybody. And as an example, my face and it’s a diversity and the people that were working with are of have all different faiths and backgrounds. I’ll give you another example actually from Dnepropetrovsk (Ukraine).
We think about our global Jewish community. Global Jewish citizenship implies responsibility, that’s not in any way bound by borders.
As scary and devastating is coronavirus has been here in North America, it’s that much scarier in a country that doesn’t have the health care system or the infrastructure, the access or wealth resources that we’re fortunate to have here in Boston, so when this crisis struck my most overwhelming fear was actually for our partners in Dnepropetrovsk. Specifically, because I visited their last November, and I had the chance to visit one of the local hospitals and the building is crumbling and there’s no electricity, and there’s a shortage of basic supplies and equipment is out of date.
They don’t have the most basic things that we could buy for 99 cents here. And on top of all of that is that there’s corrupt corruption that’s rampant in the country. So we heard stories of people who were sent for tests, but they didn’t know if they needed to test or not, who were prescribed medication, but didn’t know if the medication would work or not. And that’s just the healthcare system that they’re living with there and then you then overlay Coronavirus on top of that.
Also, in November, when I visited Dnepropetrovsk I had the chance to visit the Jewish Medical Center which was built, thanks to support and expertise actually from the Boston community. It’s bright and it’s modern and it’s well equipped and it’s a relief to be there. And I should say it’s called the Jewish Medical Center. But they serve everybody in the city. It’s not specifically for the Jewish community. When coronavirus hit, we turned to our partners and we said, well, what is it that you need.
And the very first thing that they asked us for was actually medical advice is it, can you can you partner us with medical professionals in Boston who can tell us how to prepare and what are the supplies and equipment that we need.
Because we had people in Boston, that it helped to build the Jewish Medical Center. They already had familiarity with Dnep and the community and what is available in Ukraine and not available. And so we were able to use that connection and based on that they came to us with a list of actual equipment and supplies that they would need and CJP’s Coronavirus emergency response fund was able to allocate $100,000.
I’m really proud to also share that they use the funds to set up a field hospital to treat coronavirus patients and a hotline. That was staffed by doctors to help anybody in Ukraine. So anyone in the country can call the hotline and get professional medical advice. I’ll just also add, we also turn to our partners, of course, in Haifa to ask them what their needs were and they asked us for support for at risk families: For Holocaust survivors, to enable remote learning for children in the Ethiopian Jewish community because it’s all fine to say we’re moving to remote learning but if you don’t have a computer and internet at home.
You’re stuck. And I’m really proud of the help, we’re able to provide that for them.But to the notion of global citizenship. We also went to them for help. There was a call here for help for the nursing centers in Boston that needed medical supplies and we didn’t know how to access it. So we asked partners in Haifa – can you help us out?
And they of course being Israeli, they said, ‘oh yeah I know an Israeli who works for a supplier in China. I’m going to be able to get you everything’ and they went and they sourced it and they found it and they shifted here.
And it arrived at Hebrew Senior Life and I’m particularly proud of that.
Marc Baker: Thanks. I want to ask about the next generation. And as we start to talk about this will be probably my last question and I’ll try to take some questions that people sent in. And that people may have
You know, I think all of us are thinking not only about the needs today, but also about tomorrow, and in particular about how we transmit that kind of passion and sense of connection and collective responsibility that obviously animate both of you and everything you do.
And that brings us to the question of how we engage the next generation in this work with their own sense of global Jewish citizenship of what it means to be a Jew in the 21st century world.
And I know that we’re all doing work in this space and all thinking about this space. So maybe I’ll start with you, Asher, when you think about our next generation and how to inspire this sense of both connection and responsibility in them, you know, what do you see and how is JDC thinking about this.
Asher Ostrin: We have a program for young people called Entwine. We talked about the impact of COVID I think probably one of the biggest things that we all face is that we can’t travel anymore. I think inviting young people to spend some time in a Jew emerging Jewish community developing Jewish community or Jewish community with specific needs was always a way of inspiring and encouraging these young people to understand the sense of and develop a sense of obligation for those around the world.
That is a great way of, I think, engaging young people. We are in a post or I don’t know it’s post travel or pre travel, whatever it is, right now, we, we can’t travel, I think.
We first of all have to use technology to let them experience these things almost vicariously. The second piece is, I think we have to tell the stories and then they have to understand that there’s a there’s a whole Jewish world out there. We have raised kids in many instances, who feel very coddled and and comfortable with with their experiences. I think that’s one of the things that we’re seeing now with everything that’s going on in the social unrest in the United States, how many Jewish kids identify with what’s going on and want to find some way to express it well.
I think that that’s important in an American context. I think that it will also speak to them to understand that there are needs Jewish people around the world that don’t necessarily require going out and demonstrating but there are other ways to address those needs and to feel that you’re part of something that’s larger than yourself that you can have an impact that you can change lives and in many ways even impact the course the course of Jewish history.
It’s been done over and over again by our people and I, for one, I’m very confident that our next generation will understand that and will understand that there are channels to get involved Jewishly at home and and also around the world when we’re post-COVID.
I think about what that’s going to feel like look like for that and you know the relief of being loved ones again or to be physically in community again or for me to be on a plane. Again, we’ll all feel different types of relief when it’s safe to do all these things, again, but we all know we’re not going back to how things were before, because in the last three and a half months we’ve been forced to think about new ways to work and to connecting convene and learn and to support one another.
I don’t see it going away because we’ve been so enormously successful at it and we’re going to have opportunity to take the best of what we taken from this experience into the next world.
Aviva Klompas: Right now, it does not matter if you live in Haifa or Dnepropetrovsk or Nairobi, or in Boston, because we all meet on Zoom and there’s something incredibly powerful about that. There is no replacement for a face to face interaction. There’s no replacement for an immersive experience. But I think we’ve inadvertently hit on something pretty powerful and I see it when I see that here in Boston is one of our projects inspire participants is keeping us updated on the Jewish community in Uganda, or who works for the JDC in Mumbai is checking in on our Project Inspire India group. We found ways to be connected for us. One of the ways that we’re Inspiring the Next Generation is through this Project Inspire initiative. Our motto at Project Inspire is get inspired inspire others. So we take people into the world. We open their eyes to something, and we ask them to bring that experience back home. Very often when we take them and we show them a developing country and they see a slum or they see a hospital for the first time they feel this overwhelming sense of despair, like there’s so much need in the world, and what am I supposed to do about it and I’m so privileged. What can I do about it? And the advice that I’ve always given to our to our participants is to try to set aside the scope of the problems which are overwhelming and it can make you feel paralyzed and rather ask yourself what is it that I can do with the skills or networks or abilities that I have to make a piece of the world that I touch a little bit better. Because if every one of us decides to take that on, then we’re creating concentric circles of human compassion and action.
And those circles grow and they radiate and that is how you’re ultimately able to collectively make a big impact. And I have to look no further than right outside of all of our, you know, all the major cities in the world to see that that’s true that if every person stands up and uses their voice and votes with their feet were able to do something pretty incredible.
Marc Baker: Thanks. So we’re getting some questions that are just kind of like a level setting question people just want to have a sense of the actual magnitude of the needs around the world and then I actually want to bring us back to what both of you just talked about, which is
There’s also a bunch of questions like, is there anything I can do from here. Like, what would you tell me to do you know today after this call? If I want to kind of live out my global Jewish citizenship more.
Asher, can you give us a quick landscape of particular Jewish communities that have been hit really hard by COVID? Also people asked specifically about how big the problem is and how big the needs are in the former Soviet Union in terms of elderly and otherwise I’m not sure if you can kind of put it in perspective for us but give it a shot.
Asher Ostrin: I would say the places that right now are most problematic or Venezuela and Argentina. Argentina was not in very good shape even before COVID hit. We were expecting the economy to implode by the beginning of the third quarter and now COVID has really exacerbated that whole situation and moved it more to pretty dramatic low points. Also, there are quite a few Jewish small Jewish communities in Europe that have been hit hard by COVID and the fallout of the economic situation.
Many of these small communities, for example, where they had institutions that were really the centerpiece of the community, the Jewish school, for example. I don’t think any of us realized how vulnerable Jewish institutions were in these small communities and for community like Athens, a community like Milan, community like Barcelona for their Jewish schools to collapse that in many ways that would be incredibly traumatic for the for the community.
So the European Communities have two I think major challenges. One is what’s happening to their institutions, and number two, the creation of new poor Jews who were in middle class who own their own businesses and because things were hit so hard and the economic situation was so bad, and they don’t have the same safety net in terms of community that you literally have in Boston, or any of the large cities in the United States. These can be the communities don’t have that depth of wealth. So that’s a problem.
The third piece I think is what we’re seeing in Israel. I just, you know, one piece of equipment, because of the high unemployment and because schools have been closed for real spike in domestic violence. And that’s something that Israel has coped with on a small scale, but the kinds of things are happening now. I think are much greater and then in the former Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe. The, the situation with the elderly, that has two sides to that coin. It is very difficult.
For example, there are 33,000 people who get home care. Now, it’s very difficult to bring people into those homes now that transportation has been stopped.
People over the age of 60 aren’t allowed to visit other people and a lot of the home care workers were over the age of 60 the flip side of that coin is that because we have been able to manage it and remarkably well in places that a very hard hit by COVID.
Among our clients, there’s been no rising mortality among the elderly Jews in places like Ukraine and Russia, which otherwise have been hit very hard by COVID. We can do wonderful things when we put our, our minds and our hearts and our hands to it. And I think that that’s really the message. I’d like to leave all of us, we can do it.
Marc Baker: Will take it. Either you can either if you comment on it, you know, if someone’s listening here and is thinking, what can I do, you know, what can I do now? In the spirit of something you just said Aviva, which is, you know, we cannot begin to fathom the magnitude of the challenges and sometimes that can feel paralyzing. But if we can kind of shrink the change and figure out something that I can do what would either of you say
Aviva Klompas: I’m going to offer my two suggestions and one that my mother would suggest to everybody. So first off, you can volunteer. There are so many ways to volunteer right now just making a list because there’s so many opportunities. We started this great WhatsApp group where somebody just hears about a need in the community, we put it into the WhatsApp group if you can help you help. It’s really simple. If you want to do it be in touch with me.
“Repair the World,” which is an amazing NGO, has a virtual volunteering platform you search by the skills or by what you want to do you put it in. You can volunteer at CJP. We always need volunteers. I bet JDC is looking for volunteers. I bet you your favorite NGOs are looking for volunteers right now and it’s just a web search or phone call away.
Tevel B’Tzedek, which is a great Israeli NGO working in Nepal, is working on a way to do virtual volunteering in the developing world. If you want to be part of their pilot contact me about that. So there are tons and tons of ways right now to be a volunteer even here. I live in Brookline, there is a volunteer group just for Brookline, to be able to pick up into deliver medicine and groceries for the elderly, so there is no shortage of ways to be able to help.
The second thing I would suggest is to call somebody. I think people are lonely and bored. It is hard to homeschool and it’s hard to be at home in the same situation all the time and a phone call from somebody haven’t spoken to in a long time is refreshing. And I know that, especially people from overseas that have called that have watched the news and are checking on me. It means a great deal to get that phone call, just to know somebody who’s thinking about you.
And the one that my mother would suggest sending a handwritten card. It’s so rare to get a handwritten card in the mail right now and it’s just the thought that must go into it to happen. There’s just nothing like it. So that’s my advice.
Marc Baker: About you, Asher?
Asher Ostrin: Well, first of all, kudos, kudos to your mom and that’s wonderful. But it’s a little bit harder for us because most of the stuff that we do is long distance I would certainly encourage everybody to volunteer in any way that you can in your home community. Then when things begin to open up, we will have lots of opportunities and lots of lists of things that that can be done to help the Jews around the world.
Part of that has to do with travel and part of it has to do with the travel of the individual who might be volunteering and the other is so that we can get back to the communities that we’re accustomed to working with. But the one thing that I do think you can use some time is educate yourselves about what’s going on in communities around the world. There’s a lot of stuff online. There’s a lot of stuff on our website. And then when things do open up and there will be a time that is post COVID we will welcome volunteers, and people willing to chip in and help in any way they can.
Marc Baker: That’s great. And I do think it’s a good reminder. Go to the JDC website to read and learn. And for me, one of the amazing things I have from this conversation and just every time a time I talk t both of you is that your stories have so much to do with your eyes being open your heart being open to Jews and human beings around this world. It feels like it’s a never-ending opportunity to learn more about our world, about our history, and about the individuals we try to take care of.
I also want to say neither of you said this, but obviously, if you go on the JDC website you can give to their emergency fund. I think there is need and we all want to do more than that. And I suspect many, many of the people on this call have already done that but you know when you’re feeling that instinct. There’s so much work to do with the needs are just building. So, I’m just giving a reminder
Let’s end on a note, looking forward, I guess I kind of want to ask the question, you know, what gives you hope, but I really actually want to also ask the question of what do you see when you look toward a post COVID world whether there’s a lesson we can take from this time that you think, and you both kind of touched on this a little bit. As you look forward and because we will come out of this at some point; what’s the lesson that you’ve learned and something you’ve seen that you think we want to take with us or just something that you know when you think forward gives you hope in our future and that’ll be you guys get the last word. I noticed on that question.
Asher Ostrin: So for me, one of the things that is really important is the importance of community from people being part of something that’s bigger than I am. Bigger than we are, and that really cares for us, whether that community is represented by CJP, whether it’s represented by the Jewish community internationally for the Jews who are there either mentioned use the word earlier on that I think it is permitted me well, both in my career, and also, more recently, with everything that’s going on and COVID-19 and I think something that I personally don’t acknowledge or recognize often enough, and that word is privilege. It really is a privilege to be a part of this people an everything that it’s done, and it’s created and cares for its own
And beyond that, it’s brought a tremendous amount of pride. I feel that I had to summarize the 34 years of my work with Jewish communities around the world. What a privilege it is to be part of this Jewish community that cares for its own and its really accomplished so many things and taught me that dignity and the sanctity of human life and just so many beautiful lessons I have learned. It has been a very difficult time for all of us, but the to the extent that we’ve been able to get through it, and we’ve gotten through it. I think with flying colors; we are a part of a really remarkable people.
Aviva Klompas: I’ll add to that that I’ve just been really proud of what I’ve seen of the ways that people have just jumped to respond like seamlessly without a pause. We’re going to do it. I mean, we’re going to figure it out as we’re acting on it which is pretty incredible. For me this period, I said it before, that it doesn’t matter if you’re in Haifa or Boston, Dnepopetrovsk Nairobi or Mumbai. We meet in the same Zoom room and that’s been really powerful to me because I think it’s shifted the dynamic of how we’re interacting with these other cities.
There might have been a perception that we as Boston tend to be the funders tend to be the providers and I’ve seen that just pivot which is strange to say in this time. So as an example, we have these weekly Zoom calls with JDC. We didn’t have Zoom calls with them before they were introduced to zoom. As a result of this, because that’s where we meet in zoom rooms and we’re so we’re not just speaking, much, much more than we were before we’re speaking more meaningfully. t first we were talking about, what do you need, and what’s happening, what’s going on. But now let’s just talk to each other At this particular moment, they’re reading the news and they’re tremendously worried about and their the first question is, how are you and explain what’s happening and we see that Boston is a hotspot for Corona virus and we see that there’s this protest going on in Boston. Tell us explain what is happening to us. And so for us, I feel like the physical distance between us, even though it is the same, it feels so much smaller right now and I’ll just echo what you said, which is that I feel that going and being able to see the world is an enormous privilege, but to have a position where you get to show other people the world and introduce it to them. That’s the greatest privilege of all
Marc Baker: And I’m just listening to the two of you and thinking we have come so far since the days when the American Jewish community just sent money overseas, and that’s great. But what we’re really thinking about right now is what it means to do that in a 21st century world, and strange paradoxes of Zoom when we are socially distanced, yet in some ways, our boundaries are collapsing. I think really do create opportunities for a new conception of what it means to be part of a global interconnected Jewish community that feels connected also to the broader world and to all of humanity and intersecting circles of responsibility. That for me captures what CJP is all about and why this partnership with JDC has been so powerful and so critical. I think we are one of the cities in the country that has a strong partnership with the JDC as anywhere else. Thanks to so many of our shared leaders and volunteers and philanthropists and supporters who are just ambassadors and just passionate believers. Let me say thank you to both of you for what you do, but more importantly for how you lead and more importantly than that, for who you are. It just oozes out in the way you talk about your work and it’s refreshing and inspiring.
To see people who get up every day and live their passion and in doing so, actually make the world a better place. It’s a privilege for me to be in conversation with the two of you. So, thank you so much.
Asher Ostrin: Thank you. Stay safe.
Marc Baker: And use you too. And I want to thank everyone who was on this call.
We will continue to update you and inform you about the important work that we’re doing here at CJP for our own community, and how we continue to evolve our work.
Around Israel and global Jewish citizenship and we look forward to more opportunities to learn together in the future. In the meantime, thank you all for being here and for learning with us. I want to wish everyone a safe and safe and a happy and healthy summer. Take care.
Asher Ostrin: Thank you.