by Joshua Bonfante
Hi, my name is Rebeka, I’m 20 years old, and I’m currently getting my Bachelors Degree in English language and literature and studying to become a teacher. I like to read poetry and work with kids and I would love to start a kids section in the Jewish community.
How did you first get involved in the Jewish community?
“Well, I grew up in the Jewish community and have been pretty active since I was a child. Then, in High School, I became a board member of BBYO, focusing mainly on team leadership, activism and program managing, also running side-projects for my Jewish community. After I graduated I slightly grew apart from the community, but I’m now trying to get involved again through different organisations, gaining experience as time goes on.”
As you said, you’ve been involved in Jewish activism for a long time: what impact do you wish to have on young Jews in North Macedonia?
“We have this very big problem of nurturing Jewish Identity and Heritage in North Macedonia, and you can see it slowly dying out. I really want to create something so that the Jewish generations to come, have support and are able to continue moving forward. If this doesn’t happen, Jewish life will die out in the next 30 years, max. I want young people to get to my age and have something to cherish and grow in.”
Exactly, we are the future, we must go back and help those who come after us, both in our community and in the Jewish landscape.
Keeping in mind the cruciality of the next 30 years: what do you think are and will be the biggest struggles for your Union and how are you prepared to tackle them?
“Yes, we also have a problem with the grown-ups in our community. The biggest challenge for young Jews is gaining the support of the elders in the community. Right now it’s all very fragile and just not working and we want to change that. We find it very difficult to find support for our ideas aimed at the continuity of our community, especially on the financial side.
As a country that is not part of the EU there’s no funding options for us, no organisations who are ready or interested in supporting or sponsoring us. It’s just us and our community, with a few thousand Euros, so it’s quite difficult.”
I get the feeling that Jewry in North Macedonia doesn’t really create relationships with other Jewish realities outside the country. Why do you think that is?
“I think the problem is that there is a lack of education on these matters and the approach is very ignorant towards these things. Opening up to discuss, learn or search for opportunities and alternatives is a bit difficult.”
Talking about how you got involved in the International context: you and I met at AJC Global Forum 2023 in Tel Aviv and in the past year you’ve been very involved in EUJS, mainly through the Union Accelerator. What do you think you gained from these experiences and what do you hope to learn?
“Working with EUJS has given me new perspectives and a new approach to problems we faced as a youth club and a Union and I’m very grateful for that because if we didn’t get opportunities such as the Union Accelerator we’d probably be a lot of steps behind. The people were very supportive of us and it helped us to become stronger.
The only way we can feel Jewish is when we leave our Jewish community, opportunities at an international level are crucial for this reason, and I hope EUJS will continue opening up spaces for countries like North Macedonia. It’s all very important for us and when we return to our country from these events and spaces we return with knowledge and tools we have never received for the past 17 years.”
Many, myself included, didn’t even know that there was much Jewish life in North Macedonia. What’s the best question or comment you’ve received about Jewish life in your country?
“My favourite reactions are when I tell people we have no Rabbi!”
“Yeah…we don’t have a Rabbi in the Community and we haven’t had one in a very long time. Logically, as we’ve always had to hold services by ourselves for ourselves, we have many traditions and hold onto those. One of them being our Shabbat. Our Shabbat dinner is, let’s say, very atypical and different from other communities. For example our Hamotzì is pizza and every Shabbat young people gather mostly because of it! It’s very random, but that’s how we do things.”
That’s obviously very funny, because it’s pizza, but it’s also very interesting and insightful, as it gives the North Macedonian community its own unique traditions.
“Exactly, hearing people’s reactions is usually very funny.
You know, in the whole of the community we’re only about 200, that’s all the Jews in the whole of the country. When I think about that I sit back and I think “holy cow what are we going to do?”. It’s very scary to think about the future of North Macedonian Jewry and it’s hard to push forward, but we must. I don’t want to have to explain this to people anymore, I’m tired of hearing people’s reactions about this. It makes me sad.”
That is just stunning, but totally understandable, these reactions must be unbearable even though they’re natural and the pressure you feel for sure is something very real. You have to work hard to make sure people never pity you again.
“Exactly, in this moment there is a lot of pity going around for us and we feel it. But we don’t want pity. We want people to become aware that, despite our size, we are strong. We’re trying to build something that, in some cases, feels impossible.
We need understanding, encouragement and support, and not only on a financial level but also on an educational level.
This year we will come to Summer U and it’s not only going to be me, as usual, but I’m also bringing two other North Macedonians! So I guess I’ll see you all there!”
L’Unione Giovani Ebrei d’Italia (UGEI) è un’organizzazione ebraica italiana. Essa rappresenta tutti gli ebrei italiani di età compresa tra i 18 e i 35 anni. L’organo ufficiale di stampa UGEI è HaTikwa: un giornale aperto al confronto di idee.