Over 1,000 young Jewish adults will take part this winter in a series of week-end self-development seminars throughout Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan organized by YAHAD, FJC’s young adults’ programming platform.
Called ZOOM, the seminars are spread out geographically by regions, and are taking place every weekend starting from the end of January to March. The first two kicked-off a week ago in Baku and Birobidzhan to raving reviews, and two more followed this weekend in Tomsk and Minsk.
“ZOOM seminars come to shake up Jewish life in the regions, provide variety and an infusion of Jewishness into the everyday routine of young people, who do not necessarily attend community events,” said Rabbi Mendy Wilansky, YAHAD director.
Now in its third year, ZOOM is running ten seminars across four countries, compared to six in one country in 2017. Every year a different topic is picked as the seminars’ general theme. Last year it was “Personal growth”; this year it’s “Well-being”.
“The topic of well-being is very popular nowadays, and in ZOOM we focus on providing a direction for both physical and spiritual wellness,” Rabbi Wilansky said. For every seminar, a team of lecturers, coaches, nutrition specialists and sports professionals is lined up. Seminar topics include healthy cooking and eating, sports and training, and, most importantly, leading a “spiritually healthy life.” Adding even more flavor to the mix, there is a strong emphasis on music with a concert accompanying every seminar. Each concert is different, but the focus is Jewish music, spanning from traditional Chasidic and Klezmer melodies to modern tunes, performed by local bands and performers as well as visitors.
For cities such as Baku in Azerbaijan and Almaty in Kazakhstan, this year is the first time for seminars like these, and the youth is “genuinely excited” local community leaders said. In Tomsk, Siberia this weekend the event brought 160 young people from all over the region.
“This is really a grandiose program for us,” said participant Chaya from Khabarovsk, far-east Russia, “we get a chance to meet well-known lecturers, make new personal connections, gain more Jewish knowledge. Something that helps to stay warm in the winter!”