Toronto YU students learn as much as they taught in trip to Ukraine
February 11, 2014 | Joanne Hill - Staff Writer
Three Toronto natives who participated in Yeshiva University’s recent mission to Ukraine returned with a new awareness of the global Jewish community and a renewed sense of pride.
A group of Yeshiva University (YU) students spent a week last month with the Jewish communities of Kharkov and Sumy. Assisted by several Ukrainians their own age, the YU students taught children, visited the elderly and brought food to the needy.
“It really strengthened my Jewish identity,” said Aitan Magence, adding that he was impressed by the Ukrainians’ Jewish pride and wanted to project that same “vibe.”
Getting to know Ukrainians their own age “enables [YU students] to learn about the Jewish community through the eyes of their peers,” said Aliza Abrams, director of YU’s department of service learning in its Centre for the Jewish Future.
YU wants mission participants to understand that “there are Jews all over the world and, while our Jewish experiences may be different, we’re all united through our Judaism and that connects us as a global community,” said Abrams.
The experiences of all three students reflected that sentiment.
Yona Magence (Aitan’s sister) was struck by the acceptance the Ukrainians showed the YU delegation.
“They didn’t care how religious [or] how Jewish anyone was; if you want to be Jewish or want to be a part of [the Jewish community], they will accept you,” she said. “It was a really good lesson to learn.... Sometimes our world is very judgmental.”
The young Ukrainians set a good example of community involvement that Zvi Zobin would like to emulate.
“[Ukrainians] our age are trying to revive the Jewish community and they’re very involved in their communities, whereas in Toronto and New York, teens are involved in smaller organizations but it’s really adults who change the community,” said Zobin. “So I thought, going back, we should try to be more involved in our communities as a whole.”
This was YU’s fourth mission to the Ukraine in partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).