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June 29, 2012

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PAGE 8A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 29, 2012 By Gavin Rabinowitz OTACI, Moldova (JTA)--Af- ter just half an hour the little blue tour bus painted with smiling dolphins died with a smell of something burning, leaving Matthew Bronfman stranded next to a muddy field somewhere in rural Moldova. Itwas a surreal start to What was shaping up to be a surreal occasion: the son of one of America's most powerful and wealthiest Jewish families returning to his ancestral village in a remote border region of Eastern Europe's poorest nation. In 1889 Bronfman's great- grandfather Ekiel packed up his family, including his son Samuel, a couple of servants and a rabbi, and left Otaci, a largely Jewish town in Bessarabia, a far-flung prov- ince of the Russian Empire. They settled in Canada, where Samuel went on to make a vast fortune and establish a family dynasty that at one time controlled the world's largest alcoholic beverage company. Otaci, meanwhile, went through a turbulent history and be- came part of Romania, then the Soviet Union and finally independent Moldova, lately known as the country with the world's highest per capita alcohol consumption. "After 123 years the family has come back to visit our roots," said Bronfrnan. The family had fled per- secution and pogroms. Now Bronfman, a prominent New York businessman, a major investor in Israel and a noted Jewish philanthropist in his own right, was being received with greathonor. A police car driving down the center of the bumpy two-lane country road forced oncoming traffic off the asphalt to make way for the replacement bus bar- reling along on its three-hour journey north. The bus stopped outside Otaci City Hall, where passen- gerswe-re greetedwith"Aveinu Shalom Aleichem" blasted at full volume. After the en- tourage danced a quick hora under the somber gaze of a statue of Lenin, Bronfmanwas given the traditional offering of ornate challah-like loaves of bread and blood-red wine sloshed into gold-rimmed glasses. Otaci's mayor awarded Bronfman the title of honor- ary citizen, placing a bright red-and-gold sash across his chest. "It is a unique honor for me to be able to come back to the birthplace of my grandfather and the home of my great- grandfather," Bronfman said at the ceremony. At its height in 1910, Otaci had more than 7,000 Jews. Many of them and their descendants were killed in the Holocaust. The rest im- migrated to Israel and the United States following the fall of the Soviet Union. Now the town is inhabited mostly by ethnic Ukrainians and the Roma, or gypsies. This was clear from the crowd of about 100 spectators, who apart from a handful of el- derly Jews was comprised of puzzled-looking babushkas and scruffy gypsy children who followed curiously as Bronfmanwas taken on a tour of the nearby synagogue that Niv Shimshon/Limmud FSU Matthew Bronfman, center, is made an honorary citizen by the mayor of Otaci, the town in Moldova where his great grandfather Samuel Bronfma'n was born. burned down in an accidental fire a decade ago. "It's a little surreal to come here to Otaci," he told JTA afterward. "But I was very moved by the turnout at City Hall and to see the size of the synagogue here. It was very impressive; there was clearly a big Jewish community." Perhaps because of the obvious sincerity of all in- volved and the realization that what had been a thriv- ing Jewish community for centuries was no more, the day--which at times had veered toward the bizarre-- finally managed to strike a more poignant note. At the Jewish cemetery, Bronfman searched the for- est of weathered tombstones looking in vain for the family name. (It is assumed that like many, the name was changed or corrupted during the move to the NewWorld.) Standing in a field of wild strawberries and mushrooms, a rabbi recited Kaddish next to an old moss- covered headstone. "I wasn't really expecting to find [a family grave] here, but it's still the place of my ancestors, so saying Kaddish was important to me," Bron- fman said. The journey was not just a personal odyssey for Bron- fman but also the culmi- nation of seven years of involvement in Limmud FSU, an organization that brings Jewish learning to the Jews of the former Soviet Union. In 2005 Bronfman was at the World Jewish Congress with his father, Edgar, in Spain when he was approached by Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler, who wanted to bring him on board. "He told me that we would come to Otaci and Soroca when the time was right and we would celebrate the roots of my family," Bronfman said. Bronfman is now the chair of the international steering committee for Limmud FSU, which on Sunday held its first conference in Moldova with more than 400 participants. After Otaki, Bronfmanwent to nearby Soroca, which is believed to be the birthplace of his great-grandmother and is still home to a small Jew- ish community, He visited the local synagogue and laid a wreath on a memorial for 6,000 of the town's Jews who were massacred in a nearby forest by the Nazis. For Bronfman, the return to his roots had crystallized one thing: how fortunate his family had been to have been able "get out earl; enough to be able to create a better life for ourselves." "My grandfather really wanted to be Canadian and so, perhaps, he heard more stories than we ever did about what life was like here. And in a very real way he did not want to repeat that life," Bronfman said. After the ceremony, the day again turned surrealistic. Bronfman was taken to meet Baron Artur Cherar, a bushy-bearded leader of the local Roma and the self-styled gypsy king, who was supposed to talk of the common persecution of the Jews and gypsies by the Nazis. Instead the baron, who speaks a little Yiddish, took Bronfman past an old limousine in his garden that he said belonged to former Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, and into his mansion to show him his extensive porcelain figurine collection. He even let Bronfman hold twoiof them. They came downstairs and Cherar played his ac- cordion while Bronfman and the Jewish group swayed, arm over shoulder, and sang the Yom Kippur litany "Avinu Malkeinu." They danced an- other hora and were joined by the baron's wife in a whirl of aprons and flashing gold teeth. Bronfman acknowledged that his day had not gone exactly as envisaged. "But everybody is happy," he said, "and that's good." O By Helen Chernikoff New York Jewish Week On Long Island, the b'nai mitzvah project has found an older sibling: philanthropy. Decades after community service became a standard part of the American bar and bat mitzvah experience, rab- bis and educators are trying to build on those earlier lessons in empathy by teaching Jewish teens how to make grants to nonprofits. In partnership with the Jewish Funders Network, a service organization for philanthropists, Long Island synagogues and other organi- zations are creating about 10 foundations of 20 to 22 teens each, said Stefanie Zelkind, who runs JFN's teen philan- thropy arm. The programwill start in the fall. With a pot of at least $1,000--$500 from an anony- mous donor through the J FN, and $500 from the sponsoring synagogue or other organiza- tion-each group of teens will form aboard, devise a mission statement, study Jewish texts on charity and learn about poverty and other social prob- lems on Long Island. They will then possibly do more fundraising, visit potential grantees, decide who shot~ld get what and cut the checks. "It's an important thing, to create a new generation of givers," said Rabbi Susie Moskowitz of Temple Beth Torah in Melville, N.Y which is participating in the project. She sees the philanthropy A Seni0r Living Commun ity where Hospitality is a Way of Life. Assisted Living -Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Care =.Vadetyof A ent Suite Selections, some with Lake ews Weekly Happy Hour hosted by the Jewish Pavilion . Month!yBageis and Lox luncheon :. " Cal! us, stop by for a visit, join us for lunch, or all the above You are always welcome! 1301 W. Maitland Blvd. Maitland, FL 32751 407-645-3990 Assisted I2' i~g FaciJil3, License No. 8447 Skilled Nt~rsing F~cility License Nn, 1635086 program as an extension of her work with sixth graders and their families, which involves volunteering, and with seventh graders, in which the students begin to think about which nonprofit orga- nizations they would want to support. The program does not require the selection of spe- cifically Jewish recipients, Zelkind said. "We think it is a valuable conversation to have: What does Jewish giv- ing mean? What is a Jewish organization?" The teens who will par- ticipate in the program prob- ably already have significant hands-on community ser- vice experience due to the prevalence of volunteering requirements in schools and synagogues, Zelkind shid. "We explain that this is the other side of the coin," she said. "We present philan- thropy as a complement, or parallel process." That's as it should be, said Dwight Burlingame, a profes- sor and director of academic programs at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana Uni- versity. Ideally, he said, young people volunteer on a regular basis before they give money because that direct experience helps them figure out which causes are most important to them. It also tends to cor- relate more strongly with adult charitable activity than donations alone. Teen philanthropy started in the early 1990s in Michigan with support from the Kellogg Foundation, and there are 52 Jewish teen foundations nationally, Zelkind said, add: ing that the concept arrived relatively late in the New York area. "Given the size and scope of the community here, there wasn't one agency that was a natural gathering place," she said. "There just wasn't a leader to launch it." Asimilar UJA-Federation of New York program, in which 27 Manhattan high school students each contributed $180 and then raised further funds from friends and fam- ily, gathered six times this past year to hash out philan- thropic priorities and select beneficiaries, said Sheila Devore, director of the Center for Youth Philanthropy and Leadership. That group, the Teen Philanthropic Leadership Council, ended its first year of operation on May 30 by distributing about $53,000 to six grantees, including $13,000 to Yemin Orde, a youth village in north- ern Israel, and $6,000 to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to support its efforts in India. Helen Chernikoff is a staff writer for The New York Jewish Week, from which this article was reprinted by permission.