An attack on a synagogue might make some Jewish communities keep a lower profile, but for Anastassia “Nastia” Pletoukhina it is not only a rallying cry but also a validation of the work she is doing with the Jewish Agency for Israel.

It all started when Pletoukhina and a group from Berlin decided to observe Yom Kippur in Halle, a city smaller than Berlin.

“We went to Halle to observe the Shabbat somewhere quiet, out of Berlin’s crowded synagogues,” said Pletoukhina, CEO and founder of Studentim, an initiative of the Jewish Agency’s Nevatim leadership program in Berlin. “We also wanted to enrich the synagogue with the prayers and energy of younger people. We wanted to bring the spirit of Yom Kippur to a smaller synagogue and to support the smaller community.”

Her group’s visit to the Halle synagogue also ended up saving lives and cementing Pletoukhina’s work of training young Jews to become leaders not just in the German-Jewish community but in German society in general.

“The Torah reading had just started when the attack happened, and we were very lucky that we had many people in our group who know what to do in this situation and we found a spot to take the congregation to safety and started to barricade the shul,” Pletoukhina said.

A neo-Nazi using a homemade gun was firing at the synagogue’s door. The synagogue had already received some security fortifications from JAFI. While police arrived quickly, the congregants were on lockdown in the synagogue for five hours until police gave the all-clear.

“During this time, we decided to keep praying and it was a very emotional time for all of us because we were just feeling the hand of God,” she said. “We felt the hands of the Almighty saving us from a crazy man outside the synagogue.”

While the assailant failed in his attempt to get into the synagogue, he killed one passerby and another person in a restaurant.

Pletoukhina will be discussing the ordeal in Halle as well as the work Nevatim is doing with her Studentim program during a presentation at the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus on Nov. 13 at 6:45 p.m. The event is co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, the Anti-Defamation League of Arizona, the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Phoenix and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix.

Federation has partnered with JAFI for nearly 80 years. It has given money raised during its annual campaigns to JAFI for general use throughout Israel. However, some of the funds have gone to the JAFI Youth Futures mentoring program in Lod, Israel. 

The Federation’s Israel & Overseas Global Leadership team (Jake Bennett, Danielle Gross, Rachel Hoffer, Roberta Lazarz and Andi Minkoff) are focused on bringing stories such as Pletoukhina’s of JAFI, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Ethiopian National Project to our community.

“In our world today, the partnership of JAFI and Federation is there to respond in the most urgent situations and also there to nurture and strengthen Jewish communities,” said Robin Loeb, chief operating officer of Federation. “The most recent graphic example of this was the Yom Kippur attack on the Halle synagogue in Germany.” 

But taking quick action in the face of danger is a byproduct of what Nevatim does. The program is a platform for the creation and implementation of more than 150 initiatives aimed at empowering and nurturing a new generation of Jewish community leaders in Germany. Nevatim is Berlin’s largest provider of Jewish education to college students.

Pletoukhina said the attack on the synagogue provided a strong lesson to young Jews about becoming active in German society. She added that it is important for Nevatim to support young people in their leadership goals — not only existing leaders, but also those who are not engaged yet. 

With all the initiatives available through Nevatim, young Jews in Germany can find projects of interest that will help them get connected throughout society.

“With Nevatim, we have had a huge opportunity over several years to support people who just want to do something,” Pletoukhina said. “Now more than ever we’re in the situation where we have the chance to get active, to let our Jewish voice within Germany be heard, and also to not be some minority on the side or some chapter in a history book about the Holocaust but to get a strong place in German society.” JN

The program is free, but you must register by Nov. 8 at jewishphoenix.regfox.com/2019-a-conversation-with-anastassia-pletoukhina.

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