As it appeared in the Jerusalem Post
Jewish International Connection has its annual gala on:
Sunday, December 6th at 8 p.m. Israel, 1 p.m. EST.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. And that’s exactly how Jewish International Connection got started 20 years ago.
When my husband and I moved to New York City in 2000, we found ourselves in one of the world’s most densely populated Jewish areas outside of Israel. Previously, we were hard pressed to find any fellow Jews while living in some extremely remote parts of New Zealand and Australia.
And when I say remote, I mean far-flung hinterlands of the globe where I had to perform my mikveh in the frigid South Pacific Ocean next to signs warning people against swimming. We once drove 500 miles to the nearest Jewish community for Shabbat. In Tasmania, when a man wearing a kippah knocked on our door, my jaw dropped in shock – I hadn’t seen a religious Jew in six months.
Heading to Manhattan, I fully expected to be one of millions as opposed to one in a million. I anticipated instantly integrating into an existing, thriving community.
I also felt slightly intimidated at the prospect. I had found my calling in Australia and New Zealand. When we lived in Sydney and the Gold Coast, I galvanized Jews who had no connection to their religion or to Jewish customs. My husband and I conducted outreach, we hosted Shabbat dinners and I recruited Jewish students for trips to Israel.
What would I do in New York? Thousands of established Jewish organizations already existed along with an abundance of synagogues and kosher food.
When I shared my concerns with Rabbi Noah Weinberg, OBM, then director of Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, he laughed. “You think there’s no work for you in New York? You’ll find plenty of work there,” he reassured me.
I didn’t understand at the time. About a month after arriving in the Big Apple, a friend asked if I would host a Rosh Hashanah meal for 36 foreign Jewish MBA students from 30 different countries. If it weren’t for that dinner, those students would have nowhere to go for the holiday. Being a foreigner myself, I was sensitive to that, especially since I too was having trouble breaking into the local community. As I continued to host more dinners with more expats, I realized I had stumbled upon a need and found my mission: To provide community for foreign Jews living in New York who found they were disconnected from their religion and from other Jews. I spoke with my friend Steve Eisenberg and, together with my husband Gavin, we founded Jewish International Connection New York. In no time at all, JICNY skyrocketed. I had understood there was a need, but I didn’t realize just how deep it was. JICNY quickly became the home away from home for Jews who came from abroad or other U.S. states to live in New York. We made sure that no Jew would be alone for Shabbat or a holiday. We provided family and faith, making connections that extended through to jobs, roommates and more. When my family decided to make aliyah six years ago, many people said that would doom the organization. But I decided I could not let that happen. COVID aside, I live on a plane for the better part of the year making sure events carry on in New York. Meanwhile, I established much needed outreaches in Israel as well. Today, JICNY — and now JICIsrael as well — reaches more than 10,000 people from more than 40 countries. We run programs in New York, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. We host thousands of Jews for Shabbat and holiday meals. We have seen hundreds of non-observant Jews connect with their Jewish identity. We host weekly Torah classes. We hold 250 events a year including classes for couples, parents, singles, professional networking events and cooking classes, to name a few! We take annual heritage tours to places such as Morocco, Poland, Germany and Israel. We recently celebrated our 129th marriage. And so much more. The staff remains just me as a full-time volunteer, a part-time assistant, an intern, plus a dedicated group of volunteers. For all of our events, I am the contact person. I remember worrying that I would have no impact in New York City. But two decades later, we have an organization that has reached across international borders to connect Jews from around the world. And to help them feel at home. Looking back at our 20 years, I still get emotional. JIC was my first baby. And now, as I prepare to send my son to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, at least I can rest assured that this one — JIC — will live on - with me at home. JIC's annual gala will be held on Sunday, December 6th at 8 p.m. Israel, 1 p.m. EST. For more details, please go to jicny.com/20years