JDC Symposium - Young Jewish Leaders From Around the World


On Sunday, July 27, the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee (JDC) held a symposium with 13 organizations at the beautiful Leichtag Ranch in Encinitas. The symposium started with an update from Gideon Herscher, JDC’s Director of Development and International Partnerships, who had just flown in from Israel. Gideon lives in Tel Aviv and spoke of personal experiences that were both heartbreaking and inspiring. He spoke of his sincere belief in global Jewish responsibility and that in times of crisis we need to reach out and help those who need it, and protect the vulnerable in our communities. As he spoke thunder boomed outside and he commented that the sound is reminiscent of what they hear daily in Israel at the moment. 


Gideon restated that his primary concern is the vulnerable, the elderly, and children of Israel - how are they dealing with the trauma and fear that plagues them? He shared children’s drawings of rockets falling on their homes and their interpretations of fear. He then spoke of JDC’s work to provide days of respite and entertainment for thousands of children and how JDC helps them to express themselves through trauma counseling and the aid of hibukis (huggie dolls). Hibukis are dogs with long arms that wrap around a child’s neck making them feel like they are being comforted and hugged. He explained that when children are asked how they are doing, they often shrug and say they are fine but sometimes they express their deeper emotions more openly through their toys.


Gideon reported that JDC is looking out for all Israelis no matter what their race or religion, including 250 000 Bedouins who have no shelter from rocket fire. Gideon spoke of the resilience of the Israeli people and the signs of this resilience everywhere, in the acts of kindness and empathy, in the courage and optimism of children, and in that sense of responsibility we have for one another that is very apparent in the Jewish homeland - concluding these uplifting stories should be shared and serve as a light in dark times. 


The symposium then switched gears to discuss the next generation of Jewish leaders and asked if the next generation is going to be actively engaged and connected in Judaism or a “generation lost”. Michael Sonduck, Federation President and CEO, testifed that young adults of today are still very much interested in connecting to their Jewish roots and the amazing work being implemented globally to engage Jewish young adults. He told the audience about Federation’s NextGen Initiative which actively engages young adults and gives them the chance to collaborate and be leaders in their community through unique programming. More than 25 NextGen professionals convened last Friday night for learning and collaboration, and he reported that the energy in the room was palpable. 


The next panel included young adults from various organizations in San Diego and overseas who are working on becoming more connected to their Jewish roots and to their communities. They all agreed that the key to engaging young adults of today is to be flexible with programming and to empower participants while being open to feedback on the kind of experiences that are meaningful to them. 


One of the speakers, Aliona, flew in from Kiev to share her experiences and inspired the room when she spoke of her grass-roots volunteering organization that works to connect the youth to the elderly in ways that are meaningful for both. Her passion and creativity has engaged many young people through putting the initiative in their hands, allowing volunteers to come up with ideas of their own that her organization would then support. 


Both Aliona and another speaker, Andras, from Hungary, discovered their Judaism in their young adult years and both are incredibly passionate and engaged. Aliona spoke to JDC’s involvement in the Ukraine right when things began to get desperate and delivery of aid to many elderly and vulnerable citizens


Young adults today are inspired by the fact that they can do so much more together to make the world a better place. 


Martin Storrow, Director of Leadership Development at Moishe House, spoke of the wonderful Moishe House Learning Retreats designed to connect Jewish young adults to their roots and each other and to encourage discovery and discussion around topics and traditions that are interesting in order to provide inspiration on how to be innovative within our communities going forward. He said “Any time we can reach out to those who are afflicted, we are creating our Jewish future. Every person is woven into this web and we are responsible for one another. Let’s continue to build a world of passion, progress, and peace”. 





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