Ambassadors to Ukraine: returning to my roots

Growing up, I was always told by my parents how difficult it was to be a Jew in the Soviet Union. They were treated differently than their neighbors, mainly because of their religion. And at the same time, the Communist authorities refused to allow Jews to worship or have a communal life. One was both oppressed for being a Jew, and then not permitted to be one. This story was personal to me as the child of parents who had experienced Soviet persecution, and as someone who was able to grow in my Jewish identity here in America. I felt obligated to return to the former Soviet Union with BBYO, when BBYO sent a delegation to a conference of young Eastern European Jews, and prove that this generation, our generation, would be the one to embrace their Judaism.
Before I went on the Ambassadors to Ukraine, it was nearly impossible for me to comprehend that at ages 24 and 22, respectively, my parents forfeited their Soviet citizenships and embarked on a journey to a brand-new country whose language they couldn’t even speak. They had $300 in their pockets, two suitcases and a toddler in tow. Talk about a leap into the unknown. Unsure if they would ever see their families again, my parents strived to make a better life for themselves. Without their bravery, I would have never had the opportunity to be confident and active in my faith.
While on Ambassadors to Ukraine, I had the privilege of praying at Babi Yar, the site of the infamous Nazi massacre, and singing at the Podil synagogue, and lighting Shabbat candles with hundreds of Jewish teenagers just like me. Attending AJT IC (Active Jewish Teens’ International Conference), where I watched 500 Jewish teens from across the world gather in Ukraine to celebrate Judaism, was the most inspiring experience of my life (AJT is a program of the JDC and a joint venture with BBYO). I was so moved by seeing the initiative AJT teens have been taking to ignite a Jewish flame in their communities. Not only did I have an incredible time exploring Kyiv and the surrounding areas in Ukraine, I made some of my closest friends yet. If I have learned anything from AJT, it is just how resilient we are as people, always rebounding from tragedy, reinventing ourselves, rediscovering our roots, and affirming our will to remain true to our faith, community, and culture. BBYO is a lot of things: a youth organization for me as a teen, a place for me to make other friends, but it is also part of this long effort in Jewish life to preserve in each generation the fundamentals of our history and culture.
I’ve often heard that one must see something to believe it. This trip left me with experiences, knowledge, and amazing memories that will stay with me forever. And really brought home to me the enormity —the profundity — of the experience of Jews in the former Soviet Union, a story that I am part of, but which until this point, I did not fully understand. I’m so thankful to BBYO, Genesis Philanthropy Group, AJT and their partners for making this experience possible for me and my peers, and I am now confident that regardless of where I am in the world, I know I have people who will gladly greet me with open arms. We are one people, no matter the languages, borders and ages that separate us.
Alexa Gotsdiner lives in Plano. She is a junior at the Dallas International School and currently serves as the gizborit (treasurer) of Ginny Weinstein BBG. Dallas will host BBYO’s International Convention Feb. 13-17.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Judy paletti

    An amazing young woman. Our world is a better place with people like her in it! Thank you Alexa

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