By virtue of working for an international project that brings together people with diverse backgrounds and interests, I have also been exposed to all sorts of stories – of resilience, determination, of personal and community passions. To be sure, these stories have both taught me so much about life here in Bulgaria and in Europe, and have inspired me in a myriad of ways.
I have met two Holocaust survivors who overcame one of the darkest periods of our history and returning to their native Greece with the energy and vibrancy greater than many young people. I have met Serbians who learned of their Jewish heritage during their teenage years and who now commit so much of their free time to preserving their local communities. An Ethiopian Israeli activist who lives in Berlin and fights for the recognition and respect of Ethiopian Jewry. Two British men who fight for LGBT rights and recognition among the Jewish community in the UK. A Greek and a Turk who met at Gesher, fell in love, and are now engaged to be married. A Finn who felt distant from and disappointed by her community, yet fights every day for her own community and passions. A Romanian blogger who turned his love for writing, observing, and conscientious objection into activism and into a successful career.
Here in Bulgaria stand more than 100 years of stories within its grand synagogue – stories that include surviving World War II bombing and the neglect of Communism, as well as a full-scale renovation and revival. The stories of JDC employees who discovered and explored their Judaism through backgammon, summer camp, and BBYO. Stories of overcoming the violent transition to democracy of the 1990s, of being robbed at gunpoint for a baseball cap and of associating oranges with Christmas.
An international story of demoralizing rejection and exclusion from the Jewish world for technical reasons, and the willpower and strength not only to overcome this exclusion, but to work toward inclusion and progress, to work toward creating a better Jewish world.
I also had the pleasure of writing a few blog posts for the Junction website, detailing the lives and work some of the young people I have had the pleasure of meeting:
- Rethinking, Reacting, and Reshaping Judaism in Europe: How young people are shaping Jewish Europe – one innovative idea at a time.
- Re:membering the Past for the Future: One participant from Rescape seeks to refurbish and revitalize the old Jewish cemetery in Vienna Austria, in order to foster a stronger community.
- Bringing Judaism to the Stage: How Miriam Camerini navigates between Judaism and her professional life as a way to enhance both.
- The Next Step: Creating a Jewish Space for Professionals in the Baltics: After graduating from university, Sanja and Ilja felt a gap in their Jewish lives. So they co-founded Baltic Jewish Network to maintain their Jewish connection in a professional sphere.
- Finding a Path that Fits: Anna Nosková did not know how to approach her Jewishness. Her international Jewish experiences made her realize that was up to her.
These stories, of which I have only listed a few, have not only enriched my year, but have moved me deeply. They have each added a new dimension to my understanding of this dynamic and vibrant continent. They also each demonstrate the possibilities that come with strength of character, as well as the beauty of each of our individual paths, as serendipitous and unpredictable as they may be.