As part of our role in helping Jewish communities in need around the world, UJA partners with the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), a global Jewish humanitarian organization. Our efforts support thousands of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable Jews living in more than 18 countries, and fund programs to help revitalize these communities and cultivate a brighter Jewish future. Zoya Shvartzman, a native of Moldova, is one of the people helped through UJA’s support of global Jewish communities at risk. This is her story.
My story begins in Kishinev, Moldova in the 1990s. A few years after Gorbachev introduced Glasnost and Perestroika, communism was coming to an end, I was seven years old, and a Jewish choir had just started in my hometown.
Before this, I’d never been to a Jewish program and couldn’t grasp what my being Jewish meant. However, my mother thought it would be good for me to learn Jewish songs as we were planning to make Aliyah to Israel. I began going to this choir and it quickly became so much more than just an after-school activity. It was the place I first lit Hanukkah candles, learned about Jewish holidays and prayers, and met other Jewish kids.
My life path was forever changed. We made Aliyah and then my mother and I immigrated to Canada several years later where I was helped by the Jewish Family Services during one of the hardest periods in my life. Through material support, food packages, as well as a membership to the JCC, I was made to feel part of the community, and ultimately strengthened my Jewish identity. Canadian Jewry welcomed us with open arms, and made us realize the power of Jewish peoplehood.
Since then, my life has come full circle: I found myself living in Hungary, and working at JDC, the global Jewish humanitarian organization. I casually mentioned my choir memories one day to a JDC colleague who used to work in in Moldova. She smiled and exclaimed, "You do know that this was a JDC-run program, yes?"
I was in shock. I'd been working for the JDC for about five years at that point, helping rebuild Jewish life in Europe through Jewish camps and programs like "Beresheet," funded by the Toronto Federation, which brings Jewish knowledge, history, and culture, to Jewish communities through lectures by renowned professors from Israel. I have even helped organize Jewish festivals, JCC programs, and Jewish Family Services, just like the one that helped me and my mom when I was a teenager.
Not only did it make the work I do in Jewish communities in Eastern Europe today even more meaningful, it made me see that our lives are often the result of decisions and actions of others, steering us along our personal Jewish journey.
From my Soviet childhood in Moldova, a community UJA Federation has been supporting for many years, to my years spent with the Canadian Jewish community, and now my adult years as a JDC professional, my life has been greatly impacted by the deeds of generous people like those here in Canada. You changed the course of my life and countless others who today proudly exclaim, “I am a Jew!”
She smiled and exclaimed, "You do know that this was a JDC-run program, yes?"