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Giving Jewishly Abroad

Two years ago during a visit to Croatia, I happened upon a synagogue in the walled city of Dubrovnik. It had been mainly re-purposed into a tourist attraction, a mini museum staffed by non-Jews. Notably, Dubrovnik has very few contemporary Jews to tell the stories of its past Jewish communities that had lived there. While I cherish the preservation of Jewish sites, it saddened me to think of the decline of another Jewish community. 

I left wondering about other Jewish communities of today, particularly those in Eastern Europe, that are thriving despite challenging circumstances. I wanted to support these communities in a way that would have a real impact on fostering grass-roots efforts. I wanted to have a chance to connect with real people.

Under the fortuitous circumstances of a friend’s Facebook post, I connected with JDC -- the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee -- and was invited to join the giving circle for JDC’s Impact Network Hungary.

I was taken by this unique opportunity to connect one-on-one with Jews in Hungary who are my age and taking on leadership roles in a reviving Jewish community, against the odds. It was exciting to engage in this personal, direct impact way because the Hungarian community is surprisingly large—over 100,000, has long historical roots (one of the oldest continuous Jewish communities), and faced the brunt of the Holocaust, Communism, and the current political landscape. Support and connection seem especially important now. And on top of that, I have strong familial roots to Hungary and a fondness for Hungarian baked goods. All told, I was eager to join this circle.

Our Impact Hungary Network giving circle granted some $30,000 this year toward proposals generated by Hungarian Jewish social entrepreneurs who are fostering the vitality of Jewish life through efforts such as community-building, education, and outreach; many are also supporting a positive Jewish identity with the non-Jewish populations in Hungary.

Throughout our grant process, our group is able to connect in a meaningful, hands-on way with similar-aged Jews in Hungary and to encourage their local leadership through offering them financial, strategic and moral support. We are also further strengthening JDC’s Mozaik Hub, an incubator helping empower these entrepreneurs and their program ideas to be successful and part of Hungary’s Jewish landscape.

I am really excited about a couple of projects:

  • Find your Jewish Way - A new project to create various types of meaningful, pluralistic Shabbat experiences for Jews of all ages, from Friday dinners to Shabbatons/retreats. They are making Judaism more accessible and relevant for Jews in Hungary. 
  • Charity Taxi – A renewal grantee, this group collects household items/clothes from Jewish community members and distributes to the neediest Hungarians, many of them Roma, outside of Budapest. It encourages tikkun olam and volunteerism in the Jewish community and reaches a very vulnerable population.

Through the JDC Impact Hungary Network giving circle, I have been able to connect with a dynamic cohort of like-minded Jews that care about global issues and value the continuity of Jewish life in Hungary and world-wide. Moreover, I have been able to think critically about my values and believe it’s more important than ever to support the growth of international Jewish community.   

And, while I will continue visiting synagogues on my world-wide travels, I am proud to say that next year I will be visiting this active Jewish community in Budapest!


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