“When I was 11, my mother put me and my little brother on a train to Serbia and told me to care for him.” This is how Anja started her story.
Bosnian genocide was at its peak when Anja’s parents sent their two young children to her grandmother in Serbia for safety.
Anja’s grandmother was caring and loving and exceedingly poor. Food was scarce, housing inadequate and they were desperate.
Her grandmother heard from a friend that there was help available from Federation-funded American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee center. Off they went.
Anja, confused, asked why they were going to JDC for help. Her grandmother said it was because they were Jewish.
Anja had no idea and asked what it meant to be Jewish and why no one in her family had ever told her they were Jewish.
She was shocked and confused when she learned that the Soviet regime had outlawed all forms of religious practice and identity.
At the center, JDC staff members provided much needed food and medical care.
They also helped with shelter and eventually reunified the remnants of Anja’s family.
Soon, Anja began to attend school and a Federation-funded summer camp operated by the Jewish Agency for Israel. There, she discovered what it meant to be Jewish.
College and graduate school followed. Today, Anja lives in Germany, where she runs JDC education and integration programs for Jewish refugees from the former Soviet Union.
This is but one of the amazing stories we heard on an incredible Federation mission to Berlin and Budapest.
Thanks to the work funded by Federations throughout North America, including our own, there is a resurgent Jewish community in Germany — 175,000-plus Jews strong.
The community was initially composed of Eastern European Holocaust survivors, but recently immigrants from the former Soviet Union, raised with no knowledge of Jewish practice, have arrived.
They are now 80 percent of the German Jewish population. JAFI and JDC work together to help this emergent group develop and nurture their Jewish identity, culture, traditions and history.
All of us who contribute to Federation are the authors and sustainers of these programs.
We are at a loss to express how proud we are of the Greater Phoenix Jewish community for its support of these efforts.
Again, this is only one story. There are so many others.
On behalf of all those who receive our help, we thank you for your support of these programs and the work made possible to help Jews in need locally and globally. JN
This article was written by leaders in Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix's 2018 campaign: Don Schon, M.D., FACP, board member and Major Gifts chair; Esther Schon, board member and Woman’s Philanthropy chair; Gail Ober, Woman’s Philanthropy campaign chair; and Ed Ober, Major Gifts co-chair. They took part in Jewish Federations of North America’s mission to Berlin and Budapest.