Sharing the Story

As I left Georgia for North America to tell the story of what I saw, a phrase kept running through my mind, "Securing our Jewish Future".  This is the pillar of the Jewish Agency's work. I thought about what it really meant, because I think that when we have the freedom to be Jewish, it becomes so easy to take it, and our

JAFI's Idan Peysahovich on a bombed-out street in Gori.

Jewish future, for granted. But we have to work at keeping the Jewish people together. Our Jewish future depends on the decisions and actions each and every one of us makes now, in the present. We have to care enough about our destiny to take care of each other, and to make sure that Israel remains a strong, vibrant country that is there for any Jew, any where, at any time.

After I landed in New York, I spoke at a number of Federation events for women. I met warm, wonderful people who understood what it meant to secure our future.

Though the violence is over for now, the trauma remains for Gori's residents.

Before I told them what I saw, I looked each and every person in the eye and I said simply, "Thank you". "Thank you for caring enough about Jews across the world to make a difference in their lives." And I was talking about myself. About a 16-year-old boy and his family who were able to leave Soviet Russia for their homeland, largely due to the support of the global Jewish community.

I, and so many other successful young people like me, am the return on the investment of the Jewish world. With Federation support, we were able to study Hebrew which is truly the key to becoming a "real" Israeli. We were given scholarships for college, and got so much support both socially and professionally. 

Standing before these incredibly caring people, I was closing a circle – from receiving assistance to helping other Jews to have a better life. Because there is still so much work to be done, especially in the former Soviet Union. It is so easy, especially in the peripheral areas, for Jews who have no knowledge about their heritage, religion, history or Israel, to completely lose any connection to Judaism, and sever the chain of continuity that has determined our Jewish future for centuries.

I spoke about what I saw in the Jewish communities in Gori and Tbilisi. The old people paralyzed by fear and indecision. The young people who could have a better life in Israel. The destruction and terrible living conditions of many. And there were tears in people's eyes. Tears because other Jews were suffering. And they immediately reached out in a centuries-old Jewish tradition and asked what they could do to help.

This was vividly brought home during my interview on Radio Davidson, the largest radio station in the Russian-Jewish New York community. About halfway through the 30 minute interview a senior citizen walked into the studio and waited patiently until I was finished.  She approached me slowly and held out an envelope.

"I am retired and I don't have much, but please take this," she said, handing me an envelope with $500 in it. "I want you to help the Jews in Georgia or anywhere else the Jewish Agency helps Jews. I trust that you'll use it in the best way possible."

I looked at this small, unassuming woman in amazement. "What can I do to thank you," I asked her.

Idan was hosted in Georgia by two brave men who saved many lives: Gregory Brodsky (second from right), head of the Jewish Agency delegation in Georgia, and Dr. Beso Menasherov (third from right), the "father" of the Jewish community in Gori and the Jewish Agency's local coordinator.

She looked me straight in the eye and said, "It is me that should be thanking you. It is our duty to help our fellow Jews, and I am going to organize my friends to make sure that we do so."  I was shaking with emotion when she handed me the envelope.

When I left the studio, I thought about the upcoming Rosh Hashana holiday; a time of renewal and redemption, when we are given the chance to wipe our slates clean and dig deep within ourselves to be better people and make this world a better place in any way we can.

I think that being in the service of the Jewish people is the greatest privilege of all, and one that we should all be thankful we have the honor to fulfill.

Shana Tova and G'mar Hatima Tova!

This column was written by JAFI's Idan Peysahovich, blogging from Georgia.