August 26, 2009

Meet the Newest Members of JDC's Jewish Service Corps

In this briefing from Steve Schwager, CEO, he introduces us to the newest volunteers in JDC's Jewish Service Corps.

In the Book of Bereshit, God says to Abraham: “Lech Lecha Mey’Artzecha U’Mimoladitecha, U’miBeit Avicha el Ha’Aretz asher Ar-echa.” – “Go Forth from your native land, from your birthplace, from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

Today, I would like to introduce you to the newest members of JDC’s Jewish Service Corps (JSC), the first ten of an anticipated 20 young stars who will spend the coming year serving overseas. These JSC fellows are embarking on journeys that will have a transformative impact on the communities they will serve, as well as on their own identities and commitment to the Jewish people.

Last week, during the group’s pre-departure orientation in New York, Irv and I sat down to lunch and a casual conversation with these ten inspiring young people, who in the coming weeks are heading to locations around the globe: from Israel to Ukraine, Belarus, Germany, Slovakia, Turkey, and India. We were very impressed by the group, which represents communities in Texas, New York, Colorado, California, Ohio, and Mexico City, and felt inspired by their commitment and energy.

As background, the JSC program, which began in 1987 and is now part of JDC’s newly created Next Generation and Service Initiatives Department, places recent college graduates in one-year assignments overseas. JSC fellows are catalysts for change, creating innovative programs that respond to specific Jewish community needs. In turn, fellows are transformed by their experiences, returning home with an enhanced commitment to public service and the Jewish community, and a rich knowledge and understanding of Jewish community and culture in another part of the world.

In keeping with our goal of increasing opportunities for young people to engage with JDC’s mission and work around the world, we are expanding the Jewish Service Corps in 2009-2010, both in numbers and in the variety of locations served. We also hope to enrich the experience through new selection, training, and networking tools. With another group of up to ten JSC fellows set to head to the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda in early December, this will be the largest number of JSC fellows placed in one year. Irv and I see Jewish service as a critical element in our plans. We believe these kinds of experiences will ensure that young North American Jews are aware of JDC’s mission, see Jewish collective responsibility as a call to action, and understand global Jewish peoplehood as something to take responsibility for and not just to participate in.

As Irv and I chatted with these remarkable individuals, what really stood out were their questions. They had detailed questions about the impact of the economic crisis on Jewish life, their role as ambassadors of JDC and the American Jewish community, where the future of Jewish life is heading, Jewish identity and affiliation, and gender differences in those who participate in Jewish communal life. Their questions remind us of how their generation sees the world and the Jewish people, while also reflecting their deep commitment toward that same world and the global Jewish family.

What is particularly unique about these fellows is that half of them have a prior connection to JDC. Grandparents and family members of three of the fellows were helped by JDC during or after the Holocaust, and two are alumni of JDC's Short-Term Service programs for college students. I share their bios with you below:

Yelena Azriyel
Placement: Kiev, Ukraine
Born in Ukraine, Yelena currently lives in New York. She recently graduated from Baruch College in Manhattan, where she majored in Human Resources Management and minored in Industrial Organization Psychology. She served as president of the Baruch Association of Russian Students.

Throughout her life, Yelena has been involved in JCC programming in the Russian-speaking Jewish community of Brooklyn, New York. In Kiev, she will utilize these skills to develop programming for teens and young adults.

Kate Berson
Placement: Jerusalem, Israel (CIMI)
Kate recently graduated from Tufts University, where she majored in English and Latin American Studies. Kate has experience working with immigrant and refugee populations through college internships, study abroad projects in Latin America, and oral history and documentary projects.

In Israel, Kate will be working at the Center for International Migration and Integration (CIMI), which seeks to facilitate effective migration management through knowledge exchange, capacity-building and technical assistance to government and non-government agencies. Kate will be involved in courses, consultations, and project development, in addition to volunteering at one of the grassroots NGOs that work with refugees and foreign workers in Israel.

Jeanine Buzali
Placement: Mumbai, India
Jeanine has a multi-cultural Jewish background, having lived in Mexico, Israel, Spain, and most recently the U.S., where she graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont with a B.A. in Political Science and Theatre. Jeanine spent a semester abroad at La Sorbonne in Paris and a summer studying Torah, Talmud, and Modern Jewish Philosophy at Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

Jeanine has always been involved in teaching and creating informal Jewish education programs, and she is looking forward to continuing her involvement in Jewish leadership and education while in Mumbai.

Kitra Cahana
Placement: Kishinev, Moldova/Minsk, Belarus
Kitra has a strong personal connection to JDC; her grandfather, originally from Vienna, fled following Kristallnacht and was supported as a refugee in Antwerp by the Joint. In addition, her grandfather's cousins fled to Shanghai, where JDC ensured their survival throughout the war. Kitra grew up in Canada, and recently completed her B.A. in Philosophy and Anthropology at McGill University in Montreal.

Kitra's creativity and award-winning photojournalism have taken her to many locations around the world, including Israel, Italy, Africa, and the Pacific Islands. Kitra interned at The New York Times as a freelance photographer and is currently in Washington, D.C., interning as a photographer for National Geographic.

In Moldova and Belarus, Kitra will utilize her creative skills and talents to enhance the use of online outreach tools, document histories of local Jewish community members, and help with local programming and volunteerism models.

Molly Fried
Placement: Berlin, Germany
Molly has a special connection to JDC; her grandparents are Holocaust survivors who were helped by the Joint in Displaced Persons camps in Germany. Molly was raised in Columbus, Ohio, and recently graduated from George Washington University, where she majored in Religion with a focus on Judaism.

Molly has a strong background in both formal and informal Jewish education and has worked extensively on interfaith relations on campus. Molly is finishing up an internship at the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago, where she developed her leadership skills working on project management, interfaith exchange programs, and media relations.

Molly's knowledge of German will come in handy as the first JSC Fellow in Berlin. She will work on JDC's programs to connect Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union to Jewish life in Germany, develop an online newsletter, and support the JDC Activities Center and the Bambinim early childhood education program in Berlin.

Michelle Gorman
Placement: Bratislava, Slovakia
Originally from Los Angeles, California, Michelle graduated from the University of Michigan where she received a B.A. in Psychology, with a minor in Hebrew and Judaic Cultural Studies. For the last two years, Michelle has been living in Washington, D.C., working for the Israeli Embassy to help create new programs that raise awareness and strengthen pro-Israel education on college campuses.

Michelle’s introduction to JDC was through a JDC Short Term Service trip to Ukraine, which left her determined to one day participate in the Jewish Service Corps.

Michelle will be the first JSC Fellow in Bratislava, where she will be working at the Jewish community center developing programs for children and youth, and taking part in outreach activities to attract unaffiliated Jews to the community.

Michael Gropper
Placement: Mumbai, India
Michael is from Mission Viejo, California, and just graduated from San Diego State University with a B.A. in Religious Studies. Michael has a strong background in informal Jewish education. He worked for many summers as a counselor and senior staff member at Jewish summer camps in California and spent a year abroad at Tel Aviv University studying Informal Jewish Education. He is also a talented musician.

Michael will use his innovative education and leadership skills and his many talents while serving as a JSC Fellow in Mumbai, where he will be teaching in the Jewish community and help conduct training and informal education programs.

Miriam Moody
Placement: Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine
Miriam was raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and recently graduated from the University of Rochester, where she completed her B.A. with a dual major in Anthropology and Religion. Miriam has a substantial amount of teaching experience and spent a semester abroad at Ben Gurion University in Israel, where she volunteered for a Bedouin Women's Empowerment NGO.
In Dnepropetrovsk, Miriam will continue to develop the Do Good, Ukraine! project, an online infrastructure that connects individuals with non-profit organizations and matches them with volunteer opportunities. The organization aims to develop a culture of volunteerism and an increased participation in civil society.

Susan Perry
Placement: Jerusalem, Israel (AMEN/Volunteerism)
Susan is from Denton, Texas, and graduated from the University of North Texas with a major in Political Science and a minor in Jewish Studies. As UNT Hillel President, Susan was responsible for a five-fold expansion in membership and the establishment of an Interfaith Relations program. She was also involved in various Israel activism groups on campus.

Susan’s initial connection to JDC came through her participation in a Short-Term Service program in Argentina. Her natural leadership and program development skills, in addition to her love for Israel, will carry over to her new JSC placement in Israel, where she will be working in part to develop a group of young AMEN volunteers in Jerusalem.

Shauna Ruda
Placement: Izmir, Turkey
Shauna has a long connection to JDC; her grandmother was a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto who received essential support from and worked for the Joint, reuniting families after the war before starting a new life in America. Shauna grew up in Denver and just graduated from American University with a major in Anthropology and a minor in Communications. Before college, Shauna was the one person selected internationally to be the BBYO Female International Youth President, which exposed her to Jewish communities across the United States, Europe, and Israel. Shauna also worked to create the partnership between BBYO and JDC.

At American University, Shauna was affiliated with several Jewish organizations, interned at the Israeli Embassy in D.C., and studied abroad in Ghana.

While in Izmir, Shauna will work with the Liga Youth Group and the Jewish Sunday School; help with leadership training, curriculum development, and community programming; and take part in outreach efforts to unaffiliated Jews.

Whether this is the beginning of their relationship with JDC, or whether it is bringing full circle their family relationships with the Joint, Irv and I hope that all these JSC fellows will use this one-year opportunity to learn and listen, to innovate and assist.

We are sure that this program will inspire them to increase their commitment to global Jewish life and their involvement with JDC. We encourage those of you travelling over the next year for JDC visits to meet them in the field.

For more information about the JSC program or any of the 2009-2010 JSC fellows, please contact Natalie Szklarz at

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