Young European Jews aim to strengthen Jewish life

Social innovators, entrepreneurs convene in Sweden to advance new ideas for enhancing Jewish life, community participation.

Gathering in Uppsla311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Gathering in Uppsla311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A conference of European Jewish activists began on Wednesday in Uppsala, Sweden, designed to strengthen the network of Jewish “social entrepreneurs” across the continent and advance new ideas for enhancing Jewish life and community participation.
The four-day convention, called JPropel, is bringing together 48 such activists, from artists to environmentalists, media and tech professionals, educators, Israel advocates, social justice campaigners and interfaith proponents, to create connections within the pool of committed Jewish youth who have established or are in the process of creating new initiatives within their communities.
“We are responding to a fairly new demand,” said Justin Korda, director of ROI Community, one of the organizers of the conference. “Jewish social entrepreneurship is a new phenomenon acting outside of traditional community structures and so we’re trying to forge a framework for Jewish youth who are actively bolstering communal life.”
The activists participating in this year’s conference have been responsible, separately, for starting up a number of new initiatives such as a Jewish- Israeli film festival in Amsterdam, a career advice center in Moscow, a European Jewish- Muslim dialogue conference and Holocaust memorial day in Romania.
Anja Yablonskaya, 25, from the Ukraine, has, as community development director for the Jewish community in Kiev, been responsible for developing the “Breathing One Air” program.
The goals of the project, says Yablonskaya, is to target six small Jewish communities in the country and help them foster education in Jewish culture and tradition, as well as develop communal leaders who can awaken interest in Judaism and boost Jewish life in their cities.
“The old community model is not working, and it is important to me to help bring a change and a new vision of Jewish life not only in Kiev, but all over Ukraine. I want to change the attitude of ‘what can I get from the community’ to ‘what can I give to the community,’” she said.
“There are a lot of Jews in Ukraine but the number of those affiliated with a community is small. Young people are interested in something modern, progressive and fresh and so I’m trying to build creative projects based on things like modern art, tolerance and human rights to draw intelligent and dynamic people to the community.”
JPropel, which is being convened by Jewish innovation groups JHub and ROI Community, along with Paideia, the European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden, will be putting on a number of different workshops to provide the participants with training in areas such as proposal writing, project development, logistics and utilizing digital and online tools, to further assist the activists with their various projects.
“The goal is to bring these social entrepreneurs together and figure out how they can help each other with the projects they’re working on by imparting the skills that they have learned and developed through their own initiatives.”
Conference attendee Michael Amsellem, a Strasbourg native now living in Paris, has taken it upon himself to set up a Parisian branch of Moishe House, a project which has established 37 student houses in 14 different countries, where the scholarly residents receive subsidized rent in return for which they provide a range of services to their local Jewish community.
“We don’t have enough new Jewish initiatives in France, we are not connected enough with this new spirit and dynamic of Jewish social entrepreneurship and we don’t have this culture of starting something from scratch,” the 28-year-old activist says.
“We need more grassroots initiatives and we have to look outside the rigid framework of the large Jewish institutions.
There are many modern and attractive aspects of Jewish life which are relevant to young people today, and there are many ways we can all participate in it.
“I’m trying to share this new spirit of innovation with my fellow Jewish citizens and empower them to take action and get involved.”