In the past two and a half years, I attended Passover seders in Milan and Sofia, celebrated Rosh Hashanah in Skopje, and observed Yom Kippur in Thessaloniki and Jerusalem. I lit Chanukah candles in Los Angeles and Shabbat candles in Budapest and Belgrade. I went on Jewish tours in Mumbai and Barcelona, and raised a glass with Jews from Tallinn, Prague, Johannesburg, and Buenos Aires.
I owe these experiences and so many more to the Fishel Fellowship. A program of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Fishel Fellowship was designed to imbue a sense of global Jewish understanding and responsibility into a young professional through a multi-faceted and immersive professional experience. For me, this program was nothing short of life-changing.
The fellowship began in June 2015, when I found myself on a plane to India the day after graduating from UCLA. I spent the summer there, volunteering in JDC Entwine’s Multi-Week service program. In partnership with Gabriel Project Mumbai, a group of volunteers and I spent every day leading activities and teaching English to children ages 5-13 in a slum outside Mumbai. I was humbled by my bright and resilient students and moved by the presence and commitment of the local Jewish community.
I then moved to Sofia, Bulgaria for one year as a JDC Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps Fellow. I was placed with the JDC and the Schusterman Foundation’s unique initiative Junction, which creates innovative international opportunities for Jewish young adults across Europe. I had the chance to meet people from across Europe and to immerse myself in dozens of diverse communities’ struggles, inspirations, and hopes for the future.
In September 2016, I moved to Israel, where I spent three months learning about the Federation’s work there, particularly with its major overseas partner Unistream. I experienced Israel in a new way, exploring foreign neighborhoods, bus commutes, and the power of Unistream’s entrepreneurship education to connect and empower Israelis of all backgrounds.
Finally, I returned to Los Angeles last December for a one-year position at the Federation as Program Coordinator for Global Jewish Experiences. I wrote blogs about our work, explored opportunities for increased civil discourse and local service, and organized programs honoring and celebrating global Jewry, among many other projects I had the privilege to work on.
These exceptional years are hard to encapsulate into one reflection, lesson, or takeaway. Personally, I have been challenged in ways I could never have imagined. I’ve found myself lost in the middle of abandoned foreign streets and on the tops of all sorts of literal mountains. Professionally, I have filled a collection of roles that have constantly pushed and challenged me, whether in front of a skeptical crowd in Greece or behind the scenes of an intricate cultural event in Culver City.
Jewishly, this Fellowship has profoundly shaped the way I approach my identity, community, and world. The experiences I had abroad were much more than cool or exotic international travels — rather, they unveiled an entire globe full of both beautiful diversity and fundamental connection. They taught me that being a diaspora means being a patchwork of deeply interwoven communities with vastly different histories, foods, traditions, and futures, with an ultimate familiarity, dedication, responsibility, and peoplehood. Our prayer tunes may differ, but our Jewish souls feel the same.
Thank you to every individual who has shared their advice, story, table, or friendship with me over this unforgettable journey. Thank you to the JDC and the other organizations doing incredible work for our wider Jewish family. And thank you to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for giving me an entire Jewish world.
To learn more about the Fishel Fellowship, e-mail FishelFellowship@JewishLA.org.
The Fishel Fellowship was created specifically for young adults who have a passion for the Jewish community and global service, and was named in honor of former Federation President John Fishel, a leading advocate for global Jewish social entrepreneurship who helped develop the program.