09/10/2015

Building Jewish Identity

Tags: Campaign, Federation, Family, Women, Partner, Teens

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In our Next Generation

39 national college campuses are expected to combat student-led divestment efforts in the coming school year as part of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS), which threatens to delegitimize the state of Israel. That’s why, in just one year, our community helped send approximately 45,000 young adults from across the country and around the globe to Israel.

In the early 20th century my great-great grandfather Ya’akov Kopleman left Lithuania for the Promised Land and became one of Israel’s first settlers.

He brought with him two out of his three sons – one son could not get a visa in time. That one son was my great grandfather Samuel who wound up settling in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Over the course of 100 years, many wars, and the acquiring of new languages and cultures, the Kopelman family – known as the Kaplan’s on one side of the world and the Golan’s on the other – managed to stay connected. 

Five generations later the story of Ya’akov and his Zionist dreams are still told bringing to life the love of Israel in me.

Three years ago I traveled to Israel with nothing but photographs of my grandparents and knowing a cousin would greet me at the airport. So for the first time ever coming to Israel I traveled the same path my grandparents did decades ago, walking on the ground they walked on, sitting where they sat. They always told me Israel is home. Somewhere deep in my heart I knew they were right. 

So, after numerous trips to Israel and needing to fill a void in my life, I discovered Federation’s I-Connect initiative, which connected me to an array of Israel experience options – I could go for one week, one month, or one year.

I chose a Masa Career Placement program. I had dreams of making Aliyah (but really dreams of eating amazing food every day, c’mon).

However, a few months before leaving for Israel, I met the nice Jewish boy of my dreams, Ilya, and also found the job of my dreams in Cleveland with Hey Now! Media.

I decided Aliyah could wait (What can I say? I’m head over heels), but living and breathing Israeli culture was still very important to me. So my parents encouraged me to follow my dreams…and I went knowing I would also come back. Life in Israel wasn’t easy but it sure was worth it.

I had the opportunity to work for two different companies in the startup nation, assist in the launch of an all-female incubator, connect with the startup grind Tel Aviv community and most importantly participate in an array of extracurricular activities.

The extracurricular activities included the Masa Leadership Summit where I was chosen to spend a week in Jerusalem with participants of all nationalities.

It was incredible. We spent hours every day hearing each other's personal stories and pushing ourselves to the next level.

It helped me create a great network in Israel and abroad. I spent many Shabbatot with my new friends and I know they’ll be friends for a lifetime. 

I was also invited to apply for the Masa delegation to Poland. This delegation made my life, I’m telling you.

Being of Ashkenazi descent, the traditions of my family were robbed by the Nazi regime and I spent so many years of my life curious about who my grandparents were and who their families were. Poland answered more questions than ever. We spent nearly 10 days traveling through the country; I saw tombstones of my ancestors, and even visited Warsaw, the place where my great-grandmother lived half her life. Experiencing Poland just further pushed my love for Judaism and I now have a new-found passion for recreating the traditions that were wrongfully taken from my family and ultimately from me decades later.

I don’t know if it is right to say that it is a blessing, but I am grateful to have experienced the sites of the Shoah and be given the opportunity to grow the knowledge of such a horrific event. 

At 24, I’ve now not only traced my family roots back six generations, walked on the ground they’ve walked, but gained an understanding of why we ended up where we did. I have been fortunate enough to see the importance of Zionism from all perspectives, from those of the first settlers to those coming after the Shoah. 

Now that I am back in Cleveland, I am continuing with an exciting project that I started last year. I initiated a Jewish young professionals group, called Urbanites. I’m absolutely thrilled to bring my new found Israeli traditions and of course, Israeli music to the group. I’m ready to spread the love of Israel.

And having been chosen to attend the Poland trip, means that I will do 30 hours of Holocaust-related volunteering here in Cleveland, sharing what I’ve experienced with other young adults. Right now, I am working on getting a mission together to go to Poland so others can see firsthand what I have seen.

I hope to help inspire others to trace their family roots and get back some part of what was taken from us. I’ve grown so much as a person. I hope that my polished “sabra” attitude can truly help me grow professionally but also assist in pushing me to further grow as an individual.

And now, I will become a resident of Cleveland’s Moishe House, also supported by the Federation – and with my roommates, we will reach out to other young adults on our own terms, celebrating Jewish life and culture in ways that feel good to us. These relationships, our connections, are important for us today and will help determine what becomes of us tomorrow.

I am no longer nervous to say that I have returned to Cleveland, nor am I nervous to say I won’t be making Aliyah.

I am nervous that others like me won’t take advantage of the opportunities available to them, to gain the knowledge and experiences I have had.

Every Jewish person should have the chance to truly live out the phrase "Am Yisrael Chai."

Andria's story is made possible because of generous donors like you. Please join us, as we aspire to leave no community member behind, in Cleveland, Israel, and 70 countries around the globe. Donate today.


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