“One candle lighting another”- capacity building for the Jewish communities of former Yugoslavia
JCC Global and Haver Serbja reignited the network of former Yugoslavia Jewish communities during a ground breaking retreat in Belgrade.
Imagine waking up one morning to realize that a civil war is tearing apart your county and your closest relatives and best friends who live in nearby cities and towns are now considered enemies. This is what happened in 1991 to those living in, what was once called, Yugoslavia.
The deadly “Yugoslav Wars” that ensued were marked by war crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and mass wartime rape and until the current war in Ukraine, were often described as Europe’s deadliest armed conflict since WWII. The conflicts lasted till 2001 and tore up Yugoslavia into six separate countries: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and North Macedonia (plus Kosovo which its status is disputed until today.)
For the Jewish community, this traumatic civil war came several decades after 80% of the Jewish population (that numbered 72,000 at its peak) was murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. Half of the survivors (numbering about 15,000 in total) made Aliya to Israel and the rest (about 7,000) stayed put. They were rightly so considered the “true Yugoslavs” since they did not see themselves as Serbs, Croats, or any other ethnic group. Although small, they continued a rich tradition of mostly Sephardi and some Ashkenazi Jews dating back to Roman times (!) with the majority arriving following the Spanish inquisition.
Therefore, when Davor Salom, a prominent long time Jewish leader from Belgrade, approached JCC Global asking to help reignite the network of Jewish communities in former Yugoslavia, we were quick to respond. Davor was worried that the pandemic has loosened the already fragile connections among these communities and that there has been a considerable gap of training future senior leaders in each community. Davor felt that since JCC Global specializes in network building and leadership training and is an external organization not involved in local politics, it is ideal to lead such an effort.
For JCC Global it was important not to impose any foreign frameworks but rather work hand in hand with the local leaders. In order to bridge the cultural gaps and add expertise, we partnered with the super talented team of Haver Serbia. Together, we adapted the JCC Global Dr. Mark Ramer JCC Global Hub program and tailored it to the unique characteristics of the local communities.
The first step was to reach out to each community in former Yugoslavia and identify 1-2 leaders who are committed to ensure the future of the local community. We selected some 30 participants from Belgrade, Novi Sad, Pancevo, Banja Luka, Sarajevo, Osijek, Rijeka, Split, Zagreb, Podgorica, Skoplje, Doboj, and Ljubljana who showed a commitment to join the journey together.
Next, we asked each participant to map their community, utilizing a questionnaire that we designed together with the participants. The answers received helped construct an identity card for each community, identifying strengths and challenges.
We then gathered for four online sessions discussing a wide variety of topics and presentations from experts. Topics ranged from community building models, experiential Jewish education strategies, target audience profiling, SWAT assessments and more.
Although the sessions were productive, the participants felt that it was not enough. They were eager to meet in person. Since the onset of the pandemic, they did not have a chance to do so. Moreover, we found out that a training retreat for senior leaders from former Yugoslavia was not held for several decades.
Thanks to a grant from the Jewish Federation of MetroWest and two smaller grants from JDC and from the Jewish Community of Belgrade JCC Global was able to invite the participants to a three-day Shabbat retreat hosted by the Jewish Community of Belgrade at the end of November 2022.
Nothing prepared us for the moving experience that we encountered: from uncovering the fascinating personal histories of each person, to admiring how they keep very small communities (sometimes less than 100 people) alive, to the high level of innovation and perseverance that they have demonstrated. The entire retreat rested on the able shoulders of the participants, empowering them to take ownership and agency and find solutions to problems with the help of their peers.
The magic happened. At the end of three intensive days, there was a strong sense of comradery and encouraging messages from the participants. For Aleksandra Stevandić from Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina it was the “excitement of new friendships and opportunities to work in our community in a different way.” For Ana Lebi from Split, Croatia, it brought back “loads of nostalgia - like a time machine” She felt she was: “going back to my youth, attending a seminar, my batteries recharged, optimism and hopes aroused”. And for Dragana Stojanović from Belgrade, Serbia, “these were days full of inspiration, education, friendships and community bonds renewed!” Unanimously for all, the most powerful outcome was building connections among Jewish communities who share traditions, a language and culture but live under separate and sometimes conflicting nationalities.
So what are the next steps?
1. The participants committed to create by themselves and for themselves a network that for the first year will be mentored by Haver Serbia.
2. Two follow up on line sessions will focus on joint projects and project management to equip them with tools for the coming year.
3. Finally, they will now be more connected to the global network for enrichment and continued networking.
In the Talmud (Bamidbar Raba, 13) it says: “Like a candle lighting another, the first one is lit and second too stays aflame.” This is the essence of true networking. By learning and teaching, sharing and collaborating, JCC Global and its partners are committed to continue bringing light to each and every Jewish community in former Yugoslavia.
Save the Date- March 26-28, 2023, Berlin
Attention JCC professional and lay leaders, the much-anticipated 5th Summit of European Jewish Leaders will take place in Berlin, March 26-28. JCC Global will lead a delegation from JCCs outside of Europe. For more information, please send an email to info@jccglobal and we will get back to you once we have more details.
The Dr. Mark Ramer JCC Global Hubs winter semester begins in January
More than 130 (!) participants from 54 cities and 9 countries already signed up for two upcoming Hubs. You can still register today for a few final spots.
Aging with Grace in partnership with Jewish Care, UK and Eshel, JDC - Registration
Jewish Peoplehood at your JCC in partnership with ANU museum and made possible thanks to a grant from Laurayne Ratner - Registration
JCC Global Annual Board Meeting approved plans for 2023
Forty board members from 12 countries gathered on zoom last week for the JCC Global Annual Board Meeting. Programs highlighting JCC Global’s impact in 2022 were presented by representatives from: Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Serbia, and the UK. Goals and work plans were set for 2023 with an ambitious intention to secure the infrastructure for a new cohort of Amitim3.0-Fellows- A Global Leadership Network and Leading Thriving JCCs in Times of Disruptive Change – a senior leadership Task Force. JCC Global would like to thank long time allied networks, committed donors and all supporters who infuse us with motivation and determination to continue bringing the JCC Global vision into fruition.