Learn From Jews Around the World, In the Twin Cities!

Political and economic instability in Europe are in the news, and a lot of people are wondering, to borrow the well-known phrase: “What does it all mean for the Jews?”


Marni Tselos with a woman she met at a JDC Hesed senior center in Kiev.

Two incredible young activists from the heart of Central and Eastern Europe will be coming to the Twin Cities on July 21 to tell their own stories. The visits are part of the first-ever Global Symposium, sponsored by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Minneapolis Jewish Federation and the Jewish Federation of Greater St. Paul, in an effort to bring first-hand information about international challenges and opportunities to our doorstep. JDC is the largest Jewish humanitarian organization in the world and is a beneficiary of our Federations.

Aliona Druzhynina is a little known hero who will be coming straight from Kiev, Ukraine – to talk about what has happened in her city since fighting broke out, and what she has done about it. Aliona didn’t know she was Jewish until she was a young adult. The story of how she stumbled upon her identity is incredible. Perhaps even more remarkable, though, is how Aliona has embraced that identity and has dedicated herself to encouraging volunteerism among her peers – an effort that took on special meaning, and danger, during the recent outbreak of violence.

Andras Borgula is bringing a Jewish cultural voice to his hometown of Budapest, in Hungary. After moving to Israel as a young adult, Andras made the decision to return to Hungary in spite of difficult economic and political circumstances, in order to build up Jewish life. He started the first Jewish theater in Budapest and is bringing back a tradition of Jewish intellectual and artistic contribution to the city. His initiatives – including the JDC-supported JudaFest, which brings thousands of people to the streets to celebrate Jewish culture in the open – are inspiring a new generation.

Aliona Druzhynina, pictured in the white helmet, delivering aid and comfort to homebound elderly Jews who are stranded at home in the middle of fighting in Kiev.

Aliona Druzhynina, pictured in the white helmet, delivering aid and comfort to homebound elderly Jews who are stranded at home in the middle of fighting in Kiev.

In January 2013, I had the opportunity to visit Ukraine with other young Jews through our Twin Cities Jewish community’s Harry Kay Leadership Institute. I met many amazing people like Aliona and Andras who are on the forefront of revitalizing Jewish life in a part of the world where a generation ago, it was decimated.

The JDC introduced us to families living in conditions that are extremely bleak. The people I met invited us into their tiny apartment that had only one bedroom for multiple family members and barely a kitchen or modern conveniences. They were thrilled to receive our housewarming gifts of jewelry, toiletries, chocolates and games for their children. I was deeply moved to meet Jewish people halfway across the world who we are helping.

It was a life-changing experience to realize how our global Jewish community truly is connected – through organizations like JDC, and through our like-minded belief in the value of Jewish life.

I hope you will make plans to attend on July 21, and meet Aliona and Andras, and other experts and activists from around the world. A limited number of half-price tickets are available for students and young professionals. For more information and to register go here.

Marni Tselos is one of the community hosts for the symposium.