How a Girl From Minsk Discovered Her Jewish Heritage

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a girl with red hair and a boy with brown hair

Story from the Jewish Agency for Israel

Vera was only 4 years old when her parents divorced. She grew up in Minsk without contact with her father — and totally unaware that he was Jewish, or that she had any Jewish roots at all. But when Vera turned 16, all that changed when she came across a program run by the Jewish Federation-supported Jewish Agency for Israel.

Vera grew up, unaware of her father’s Jewish roots or her ties to the Jewish world. That all changed in 2011 when Vera turned 16. A friend had invited Vera to join her for a Jewish Agency holiday celebration in Minsk’s Jewish community, but tickets were only being given to local Jews. Seeing how much her daughter wanted to go, Vera’s mother reached out to her ex-husband and invited him to reconnect with Vera.

After 12 years, Vera reunited with her dad. Upon discovering her father’s Jewish identity, she told him about the Jewish holiday commemoration in Minsk that she’d been invited to. Vera’s father took care of getting her a ticket, and Vera was able to attend. But beyond granting Vera access to the holiday celebration, that meeting with her father also unlocked the door to her Jewish identity and Jewish future.

“At the event, I learned about The Jewish Agency and joined a Taglit-Birthright program during which I visited Israel for the first time and met other Jewish people my age,” Vera said. “I learned a lot about my roots and when I got back to Minsk, I decided that I wanted to continue my Jewish journey and discover more about Judaism.”

Vera enrolled in The Jewish Agency’s Summer Camp in Minsk, an experience that allowed her to deepen her Jewish connections and gain more knowledge about Jewish history and traditions. She was so inspired by her time at camp that she joined, and successfully graduated from, The Jewish Agency’s Educational Leadership Institute (ELI) for camp counselors, becoming a camp counselor herself.

And Vera’s eagerness and thirst for Jewish knowledge spread to other members of her family, too.

“My sister started attending programs and connecting with Jewish life, our father became very active in the local Jewish community, and last summer, my stepbrother attended a Jewish Agency summer camp for the first time,” recounted Vera.

In 2016, Vera became the coordinator of a local Jewish organization in Minsk, named Shahar. She stayed connected to The Jewish Agency, graduating from the Matmid Jewish Tour Guide Program, and today is participating in an eight-month Masa program in Israel.

Because of desire to be part of the Jewish community, Vera was able to reunite with her father, learn the truth about her heritage and inspire not only herself but her extended family to discover and reconnect to their Jewish roots.

Russian-speaking Jews suffered greatly under the seven decades of the Soviet regime and, as a result, many have lost their identity and connection to their heritage. The Jewish Agency for Israel is working to bring these members of our family back into the fold. To learn more about this program, visit jewishagency.org/russian-speaking-jewry.

Outdoor Summer Music for the Kid in All of Us

Picture it: It’s a languid summer evening with a picnic dinner in the grass. Live music is playing. Parents and grandparents relax and chat while young children romp around or listen to Jewish storytelling. Toward sunset, the fireflies come out, and so do Popsicles for everyone. Sounds pretty great, right?

You have one more chance this summer to paint yourself into this lovely picture, thanks to Jewish Federation-supported jkidphilly’s Musical Summer Series.

Featuring Philadelphia-based folk musician Chana Rothman and a smattering of friends — Rory Michelle Sullivan, Lori Turner, Jessi Roemer and Mama Mac — the theme of this summer’s free concert series is B’tzelem Elohim, meaning “in the image of G-d.”

It’s a celebration of everybody’s individuality and uniqueness through music with local Jewish women musicians, as well as with stories from PJ Library — yet another Jewish Federation-supported endeavor. The resulting fun is all part of jkidphilly’s goal of bringing Jewish families together through joyful, meaningful programs.

The final concert is coming up next week: Don’t miss it. Here are the details:

Wednesday, Aug. 14, 5:30-7:00 p.m.

Kids Castle, 425 Wells Road, Doylestown

You bring the picnic; they’ll bring the Popsicles. Jkidphilly staff will also have a calming/sensory box available for families upon request. For more information or to register, visit jkidphilly.org/event/musicalsummer or contact Lori Rubin at [email protected] or 215-320-0402.

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