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Young Europeans insist on living Jewish lives – and they write about it!

Meet the first seven Kaleidoscope writers

I am a double immigrant. As an exemplary leader of my youth movement, I made Aliyah from Chile in the 1980s and in the 2000s, I moved from Israel to the UK with my family. On my mother’s side, my ancestors immigrated to Chile from Turkey and Greece and on my father’s side, my grandparents came from Bessarabia (Moldova today). I went to a French speaking school but the Zionist youth movement was where I found myself, my friends and my Jewish identity. 

This is my autobiography in a nutshell. In 2024, thousands of young European Jews have similar stories to mine, stories of migration, rootedness and reinvention. However, there are also many whose stories reveal that their families have lived in the same country for centuries (I am thinking of you – young Jews in Italy, Greece, Turkey and many more). 

Like their peers through history and geography, young Jews in Europe do what young people do – spend time with their friends, challenge their parents, work out their place in the world, look for meaning and belonging. They often have complex relationships with their Jewish identity and their Jewish community.  

Yes, there are reports of increasing antisemitism and yes, there are reports of disengagement from organized Jewish community and from Israel. However, from my work at the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe, I know that thousands of young Jews are doing the most radical act they can do in Europe today – they insist on living active Jewish lives. Some go to youth movements, some go to Jewish schools, many go to Jewish camps, visit Israel and/or join Jewish societies at university. As young adults they look for their own frameworks, often following international opportunities, many spend time in Israel, many reject the community where they grew up. 

In the 1930s, the YIVO Institute in Vilnius was curious to know what was going on in young people’s minds in the Yiddish speaking lands. They organized a competition of anonymous autobiographies. Over several rounds between 1934-1939, they received 627 entries. These were mostly handwritten and often very long (I mean long – 55 pages long). The winners of the last round were due to be announced on 1 September 1939 but then war broke out. Many of these written stories were rescued after the Holocaust and have been digitized and made available online. Reading “When I Grow Up”, a graphic novel by caricaturist Kem Krimstein based on six of the YIVO stories, helped me crystalize the idea of collecting similar stories in the 21st century.   

Today, inspired by the YIVO project, our foundation is launching Kaleidoscope – an initiative to capture and publish autobiographies by 17–24-year-old Jews living in Europe. The stories will eventually be deposited at the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People at the National Library of Israel.  

Our Gen Zs might be posting about their lives on Instagram and TikTok, but Kaleidoscope gives them an opportunity to reflect on what has shaped them into the adults they are becoming and write about it! We give some prompts to help start the writing process, such as “What are your memories of Jewish experiences growing up?” or “What do you like/dislike about being a young Jewish adult?”.   

The first seven stories featured on Kaleidoscope have been submitted by young people from Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Turkey, and the UK and showcase the rich variety and complexity of the lives of young European Jews today. Dennis, 21 from Budapest, writes about hosting Shabbat dinners for Jewish friends as a way of keeping his ‘little community together’. While Rachel, 22 from Potsdam, recalls her great grandfather’s surprise at her ‘choice to become a Rabbi’.  

Talia, 23 from London, says about writing for Kaleidoscope, “It was an amazing process to be able to think reflectively about my Jewish experience and all the different parts that come along with it.”  

We have been working on the Kaleidoscope project for over a year and yet the October 7th tragedy in Israel has given particular poignance to this moment in time. Young people in Europe have been affected in different ways and this gives them a platform for self-reflection and expression.  

Tali, 19 from Paris, says, “I was having a bit of trouble finding my place, especially after 7 October. I felt a bit vulnerable, and I didn’t know who I could talk to. This project has enabled me to fully record everything I was thinking, to take responsibility for what I was saying and to be able to express myself too.  I needed to be heard. 

I have been surprised by how moving I have found each of the stories. I didn’t know the writers beforehand, yet their stories are so familiar, real and yet unique. Kaleidoscope aims to capture a variety of experiences and to offer an opportunity for young people to be seen and be heard.   

 Kaleidoscope is accepting submissions from anyone aged between 17 and 24 years old, living in Europe and identifying as Jewish. You can upload your story online in any European language (https://www.kaleidoscope-lives.eu/en). Stories can be submitted under the author’s name, or anonymously, and should be between 750 and 7500 words. The next deadline for submissions is 15 May 2024.  

 I don’t expect many young people to be reading this blog so if you know any 17–24-year-old Jews living in Europe who have a story to tell (and who doesn’t have one?) – please share our Kaleidoscope Instagram account with them.  

 And to all those radical young European Jews, insisting on living Jewish lives, this is a great opportunity to write your story, have your voice heard and be part of the ever-evolving story of Jews in Europe. 

About the Author
Daniela Greiber is the Jewish Communal Life Grants Programmes Manager at the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe, based in London. Daniela has worked in the Jewish non-profit world for over 22 years in Israel, USA and the UK where for the past 10 years, she has been working with European Jewish communities.
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