Young Jews Look to Their Elders to Build a Future in Latvia

Gangs of young people are roaming the streets of Riga, Latvia determined to help right past wrongs.  They go around the city knocking on doors of elderly Jews. Having witnessed the Holocaust or Soviet oppression, the eyes that come to the peephole have already seen it all, and they look down on the young people with apprehension. But when they see the facilitator from Federation partner the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) among them, they smile, relax and welcome the young Jews in.

The elderly people are clients of social service programs run by JDC, and they soon learn that the young people are JDC volunteers bearing small gifts like Shabbat candles and fruits.

Once together, young and old sit together to listen and learn.  And the more they listen, the more awe they inspire in each other—the youths as the elderly share experiences of what they’ve lived through; the elderly as the next generation describes the once-unthinkable revival of Latvian and Baltic Jewish life facilitated by JDC.

“The visits give me the opportunity to hear what happened firsthand. Everything I’ve read in books seems like dry information compared to the stories we are being told,” says Mariam, one of the participating teens. “I believe it’s very important to give the elderly the chance to spend time with young people, to have somebody listen to their happy and sad stories. It’s very important to show them they are neither alone nor forgotten.”