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Exploring Global Jewry with YALA: Interview with Board Member Lauren Maddahi

This year, Young Adults of Los Angeles (YALA) has hosted multiple events highlighting communities and cultures from across the Jewish world. Programs have included a panel discussion about Balkan and European Jewry, a cooking demonstration of North African Jewish traditional food, and a Mexican Shabbat dinner. Read on for an interview with Lauren Maddahi, a YALA board member and co-chair for YALA’s Global Jewish Experiences, as she shares about her global Jewish experience and perspective.

Why did you decide to be a part of YALA, and why is YALA important to you?

I wanted to increase my involvement within the Los Angeles Jewish community. I was already active with Birthright Israel and at Sinai Temple, and YALA was a great way for me to continue to give back to the Jewish community — but in a different way. YALA is important to me because it opened my eyes to all of the resources we have available to us as Jews in Los Angeles. We do such great things here: philanthropy, content-driven events that are fun and engaging, community service, social outings, and more.

Can you tell us a little bit about your own global Jewish journey?

I was raised in a very traditional Persian Jewish home here in L.A. My family always encouraged me and my siblings to travel around the world together and on our own. As I was growing up, I was searching for and craving global experiences, and I found myself always wondering what Jewish life abroad was like. I had the chance to explore Jewry in Italy when I studied abroad, and in Lugano, Switzerland, where I worked briefly. In most countries I visit, aside from Israel, I try to find a Jewish connection. I visited synagogues in Prague, Madrid, Germany, and countless other Jewish sites. Each time, I tried to connect with the local Jews there and learn from their traditions.

What are “YALA Global Jewish Experiences,” and how are they relevant to young people in L.A.? What do you hope participants get out of these programs?

YALA Global Jewish Experiences bring these moments of travel, sightseeing, and learning from other cultures all back to L.A., without ever stepping on a plane. We have had speakers from Cuba, the Balkans, and soon India, who were visiting or who now live here. I feel that our events are relevant to our generation. They show how the various parts of our greater Jewish community interconnect and also help us develop our cultural sensitivity. I hope that each participant gains knowledge and creativity — and enjoys a sampling of delicious Jewish food from around the world.

What has been your favorite YALA memory so far this year?

My favorite YALA memory was from our LA Food Stories event. One of our speakers, a Cuban Jew, started a blog many years ago that contains a frequently tagged “best challah” recipe. Coincidentally, without knowing who she was, I had been making her challah recipe every week for five months. Then I happened to meet her when she spoke at our event and shared her food story! It was a very meaningful moment for me — it showed me that our Jewish world is very small.

YALA — Young Adults of Los Angeles — offers young adults ages 22-40 more than a hundred social, professional, cultural, volunteer, and leadership opportunities every year in one of the world’s most dynamic communities. Check out upcoming events and opportunities here. To learn more about YALA, email YALA@JewishLA.org.

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