This story comes to us from Junction, an initiative of the JDC, YESOD and the Schusterman Foundation. Junction helps to support young European Jews in taking an active role in strengthening European and global Jewry.
Martin Storrow is a proud global citizen. He currently serves as co-chair of JDC Entwine and sits on JDC’s Board of Directors. He is also a member of the ROI Community and a Moishe House alumnus. As an entrepreneur and consultant, Martin partners with visionary individuals and organizations to design community experiences, strengthen networks, and advance projects that contribute to the greater good. Martin is also co-founder of Keys for Refugees, a grassroots campaign that raises awareness and hope on behalf of refugees and displaced people around the world.
When I travel internationally, I listen to a lot of American podcasts. It’s a guilty pleasure; I know that I should be experiencing each new place with all of my senses, and I feel awkward popping my ear buds in during a walk or a workout in a new city, but there’s something about hearing comforting, familiar voices that keeps me grounded far from home.
A couple of weeks ago, for example, I found myself jogging along the Baltic Sea, somewhat ironically listening to a podcast called “This American Life.”
I had arrived in Latvia to discover a reality and history very different from my own. During a walking tour of Riga, Ian (the current JDC Service Corps Fellow) took a colleague and me to the Jewish Community building and led us into a dark, musty 400-seat theater. The building has changed hands over the last century; and this particular room had gone from serving as a Yiddish theater, to a Nazi officers’ club, to a Soviet officers’ club, and now belonged once again to the Jewish community. Simply standing on that stage in the dark felt exciting and uncomfortable.
Understanding the history of that room is helpful in understanding the Jewish communities of the region. The Baltic countries—Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania—have gone through generations of extreme change. Jewish professionals who are now in their late twenties and 30s were born into the Soviet Union, saw their countries regain independence in the early 1990’s and were likely teenagers or older by the time they were admitted to the European Union in 2004. They now live and work in a heavily networked world that is very different from the one they grew up in—and adjusting to that takes time and intention.
Two young visionaries—Aleksandr and Ilja—recognized this and set out to connect entrepreneurs and professionals from across the Baltics to share ideas and build partnerships. This became BJN (Baltic Jewish Network), and, with the support of The Schusterman Foundation and JDC, the gathering now draws hundreds of thinkers and doers who are searching for opportunities to connect and collaborate. In addition to folks from across the Baltics, BJN also attracts guests from across Europe, the US and Israel, including a strong, supportive JDC presence.
I was lucky to grow up with an understanding of Jewish global responsibility, but for many reasons, this was often one-sided. For us as Americans, international travel has been hassle-free and reasonably affordable for decades; as American Jews we are offered generous support and opportunities to explore the world. We grew up with Internet and social networks, and many people around the world both literally and figuratively speak our language. Even when we are in a foreign place, we often have the luxury of finding our own familiar ‘podcasts’; acceptance of our cultural references, language and perspective, even in far-flung parts of the world.
It hasn’t always been this easy for those we have reached out to, visited and connected with. For our peers in various parts of the world seeking to foster global connection, overcoming long-held cultural barriers and finding connectivity can sometimes be more challenging.
For this reason, a gathering like BJN is especially inspiring. Seeing colleagues and friends from the Former Soviet Union proactively devoting their energy and time to building relationships, partnerships and Jewish community internationally—and seeing them actively reaching out in ways that decades ago would not have been possible—is an experience that stokes hope in me for a future of even closer interconnection, one in which we are all equally privileged to be partners in community building, without borders or boundaries.
I was fortunate to share my music and speak at BJN this year. I was even more fortunate to share meals and conversations with individuals whose experiences and views differ vastly from my own, and to start understanding how they see the world and how they hope to shape it.
Being a global citizen is challenging. Even when we approach the world with open minds and hearts, we’re going to encounter friction. There will be parts of us that long for those familiar voices, for echoes of our own beliefs about the world and the stories we’ve told ourselves about living in it.
I’m always going to have moments where I need to pop in my ear buds after a long day outside my comfort zone. But each time we reach out a hand or open a conversation, we strengthen the muscles of our humanity; we become a little closer to fulfilling the promise of a truly interconnected world.
The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.