Virtual Volunteering with JDC Entwine

posted by Annie Levy, 2020 Insider Connections: Global Virtual Service Participant, 2019 - 2020 JSC Fellow

Upon my acceptance into the JDC Entwine Jewish Service Corps as the Pears Fellow at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda, I knew I wanted to turn my Jewish values into action, enter a new community, learn about a unique culture, and build meaningful relationships with people from across the world. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, myself and the other Fellows, unfortunately, had to return home earlier than expected. When I returned to the UK in March, I was determined to integrate the skills and experiences I’d gained in Rwanda into the ‘new normal’ that the lockdown presented. Insider Connections: Global Virtual Service, provided me with the ideal opportunity to do so, as the program offers a way to virtually engage in service and mutual exchange with JDC clients around the world. I jumped at the chance to participate.

Through the program, I connected with Diana, a teen living in Odesa, Ukraine. For Diana, the pandemic means that in-person participation with Jewish youth programming has been put on hold, and her schooling has moved online. Although Diana and I are at different stages in life, speak different languages, and live in completely different parts of the world, we were both looking to form connections and learn about new cultures. Through twice-weekly video calls, we have built a relationship based on learning, laughter, cultural exchange, and like all good Jewish relationships, food! Each week we choose a different theme—museums, nature, holiday destinations, etc.— and come prepared with knowledge to share how those themes come to life in our respective home countries. My personal favourite was, of course, our food-themed call, in which we talked each other through the contents of our kitchens and pored over recipe books, sharing ones of our families’ favourite meals. Diana has inspired me to try cooking borscht, an Eastern European beetroot soup, and shared detailed instructions for how to make it exactly like her mother does!

Participating in JDC Entwine’s Insider Connections program has reminded me of the necessity for human connection. At a time when we cannot physically connect with our loved ones, I have deeply appreciated the warmth and familiarity that has developed between myself, Diana, and our families. I would love to visit Ukraine one day, learn about Jewish life in the country, and interact with the work that JDC does there. In the meantime, I feel very lucky to be experiencing a deep cultural exchange, without having to leave my home!