The Olami Summit in Europe, which took place from Dec. 24 to Dec. 31, 2017, was the world’s largest global gathering of young Jews. As a junior studying statistics at University of Maryland, College Park, classes are fascinating and campus life is a blast, but meeting with over 1,300 delegates from 19 countries across the globe was a welcome break — and one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Last semester, I had the privilege of working as a campus ambassador for the Jewish outreach organization MEOR, one of the 320 member organizations under the umbrella of Olami, the global community of Jewish organizations committed to inspiring young Jews about their Judaism. MEOR’s College Park chapter has provided me with ample opportunities to meet with like-minded peers, to experience Shabbat meals, and to learn with talented and inspiring Judaic educators. Relating to new people and figuring out creative ways of getting them excited about Jewish programming helped me to grow in my Judaism.
A friend attended last year’s Olami Summit, which took place in Brazil, so when I heard about this year’s, I was already keen. Additionally, my parents are from Ukraine, so I always jump at the opportunity to meet Jews from abroad.
When I reflect on my experience at the Summit, it’s challenging to put into words. Dancing, singing, and praying along with so many other young Jews was an incredible experience and I was really happy that my multilingualism in French, Russian, and English allowed me to get to know many people from different backgrounds. The largest contingents from outside of the U.S. came from France and Russia, so being able to speak to them in their native languages enabled us to connect over our shared backgrounds and forge a stronger connection through our Judaism.
Learning Torah in the company of so many knowledgeable Rabbis, including Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz, and Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, was really cool and their enthusiasm and wisdom provided a unique energy. Part of the goal of Olami is to inspire delegates to take ownership of their Judaism by taking advantage of the leadership opportunities provided. Ultimately, they want the delegates to return to their communities with a greater sense of Jewish identity and purpose and an ability to spread that energy and passion for Jewish learning.
The final weekend of the Summit took place in the U.K., but the week preceding this, we travelled through Spain and learned about the Jewish communities that previously existed there. Part of the programming of the entire week was Jewish Torah learning in honor of Israel’s fallen soldiers. I found this really powerful because of the presence of a former IDF soldier, Josh, on my bus. Josh shared his story about losing one of his comrades in battle, and it really hit home how we still have to fight for what we believe in today.
Through learning about the various struggles that faced Europe’s Jews, particularly during the Spanish Inquisition of 1478, coupled with Josh’s personal story of loss, I realized how hard Jews have been forced to fight for their identity and their belief system throughout the generations. This made me even more committed to my Jewish purpose and I feel lucky to have participated in the Summit, coming home a stronger Jew and a more enthusiastic Jewish campus leader.
By Edward Nusinovich
Edward Nusinovich is a junior at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is president of Pi Mu Epsilon, the math honors society, and is currently learning Hebrew to deepen his connection to Judaism. Edward loves to travel, try new food, and play with dogs.