“In the early 1990’s, I came to Charles and Lynn with the idea of opening up Hillels in the Former Soviet Union (FSU). At the time, we were attempting to do something that was not only fraught with difficulty, but had never been done before. There were so many questions about the program’s feasibility and when I met with the Schustermans, I made it clear the project could fall flat on its face.
“I was midway through my proposal, raising all the potential drawbacks, when Charlie looked at me and asked, ‘Why aren’t you being more positive?!’ I shrugged my shoulders and told him very honestly that the idea was risky. I still remember how he looked me square in the eye and said, ‘I’m in the oil and gas business—risk doesn’t scare me. Don’t be afraid of risks, especially when there is such a tremendous potential for payoff.’
“The rest, as they say, is history. Hillel took off with the support of the Foundation and the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee, and has been a key element in Jewish renewal across the FSU.
“What’s more, Hillel impacts not only a young person’s identity and career, but also the lives of their families. In the rest of the world, Jewish continuity is about preserving a tradition that’s been handed down. In the FSU, it’s the other way around. In exposing young people to their Jewish identity, Hillel allowed young people to teach their parents and grandparents about Judaism. Now, there’s a generation of young people involved in our programs for whom Jewish identity is a major factor in their life decisions—and that’s because of Hillel.”
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