Next Generation Programming
Project Kesher’s Next Generation program develops young Jewish women leaders from their late teens through mid-thirties in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and Georgia. PK strengthens these emerging leaders’ Jewish identities and helps them build a lifelong commitment to the Jewish community through an introduction to Jewish ideas and leadership skills. Recently, PK has helped develop 46 women leaders from 38 communities between the ages of 18 and 38. These leaders have conducted more than 100 Jewish communal and secular programs reaching in excess of 2,000 women.
The program includes:
PK empowers these young Jewish leaders to develop programs for their local communities that enhance Jewish life, advance tolerance, address social issues such as domestic violence and women’s health, and lead to tikkun olam.
Participants’ accomplishments include:
Jewish educational programs (about holidays, values and text – often with a feminist focus) in 35 communities reaching 700 young Jewish women;
19 Forum Theater productions (participants explore controversial topics like gender violence, sexual harassment and interfaith tension through theater) in 10 communities reaching 500+ Jewish women and men;
27 interfaith programs to promote tolerance and reduce bullying reaching 750 young women of different nationalities and religions. Many program graduates will use this knowledge in their professional lives as teachers, social workers, and corporate employees;
Art to Activism programs which empower graduates to use art to inspire community activism. In its first outing, this new program reached 50 young Jewish women in Gomel, Belarus.
In addition, this year’s graduates joined more than 200 Next Generation leaders from other years in a series of four webinars: Moving from Text to Activism; Friendship in Jewish Communities Across Borders (explicitly addressing the tensions between Russia and Ukraine that have led to conflicts in the Jewish community); Tu B’Shvat/Israel Programming; and PK’s Global Women’s Seders as a Vehicle for Exploring Freedom of Communication and the Peaceful Resolution of Conflict.
While the standard of living in these countries remains low, particularly outside of major cities, leaders developed in this program are showing their passionate commitment to Jewish communal life through sweat equity (most devote 10-20 hours per month to programming) and the enormous in-kind support they are generating for their programs.
While the first priority of the Next Generation program is to develop Jewish communal leaders, PK sees some of the graduates expanding their outreach to community-wide initiatives where they work to improve life for all women while proudly representing the best in Jewish, feminist, values. These leaders join very impressive alumni including: Rabbi Julia Gris, the only woman rabbi in Ukraine; Vlada Nedak, the 1999 graduate who organized her Jewish community of 5,000 and is now Director of Programming for all Project Kesher groups in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine; Lena Kushnir, an employee at the Manhattan JCC where she works with NYC’s Russian-speaking community while in a non-profit management graduate program at CUNY Baruch College; Kateryna Roschina who now works at the London offices of World Jewish Relief, overseeing programs in Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova; and 2016 graduate, Valentina Dyleva, PK-Ukraine’s Director of Tolerance Programming.
Social media and technology play a critical role in Next Generation programming. Participants who return to their communities to implement Jewish identity building, and educational programs that integrate pro-women practices, use social media to reach a wider set of the population, who may not be able to travel due to cost, commitments, or regional conflict. Young people in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine are social media savvy even those with limited means usually have access to the Internet. Before the #MeToo movement took off in the US, #IAmNotAfraidtoSay was galvanizing women in Ukraine and Russia to speak out about sexual harassment, rape, and incest. Project Kesher activists embraced this campaign and the leader is now on a PK advisory committee. In addition, in Russia and Ukraine, PK-trained leaders increased anti-bullying activism (particularly against online harassment) by identifying global best practices, culturally adapting these programs, translating them into Russian and introducing them into secular and Jewish school systems and summer camps.
Questionnaires sent to the community leaders who recommended the participants for training said that 30 of the 46 – 65% had highly improved - the highest rating. 80% of the program participants reported that they had become significantly more active in the Jewish life of their communities, with 60% taking on the leadership of their local youth movements. 25% have already begun to conduct large-scale, citywide campaigns. 95% reported that they felt confident facilitating Jewish, interfaith and Forum Theater style programs.