Friday, May 25, 2012

Journey to Greece Strengthens Ties to Home

By Raquel Benguiat, Development Manager at the Jewish Federation of San Diego County

Jon Schneider with Rosina Asser Prado
As a tourist visiting Greece, you can expect gorgeous views of the blue Mediterranean and tiered white villas dotting the hillsides. If you are lucky, you'll talk to an authentic Greek fisherman who will share his views on the current political and economic crisis. 

Federation Board members Jack Maizel and Jon Schneider were not regular tourists on their recent trip to Greece. As members of the Jewish Federation of North America’s National Young Leadership Cabinet (NYLC), they experienced a very different Greece. The Jewish Greece....or what it is left of it.

Of the approximately 5000 Jews that live there, they met some very special people, including Rosina Asser Pardo. Jon refers to Rosina as the Anne Frank that lived to tell and write her story. "I bought her book because it’s an invaluable piece for my kids as they will not have an opportunity to meet Holocaust survivors and listen to their stories." Jon recalled. 

Jack Maizel with Victoria and Levi Benuzillo
Jack had an unforgettable experience as well connecting with Victoria and Levi Benuzillo. Victoria survived the horrors of the Holocaust. After lunch, Victoria’s son Levi and Jack compared notes on what songs in ladino language they both knew. These songs were familiar to Jack because of his Sephardic background. When they started singing, Victoria decided to join them and sing along Adio Querida, Rey Nimrod and several others. Everyone became silent listening to these very old tunes that brought together three generations with very different life stories but unified by a common thread of history and peoplehood. 

As a regular tourist in Greece, you would not want to miss the traditional plate-breaking dance which symbolizes happiness. In addition to participation in such famous tradition, for Jon, another traditional performance brought him much happiness. That been a recital at the Athens’ Jewish Community School. "When the kids performed, I recognize the songs as they are the same my kids sing at their school. They looked like my very own kids!” Jon recalls.

Each of the 45 NYLC members who were part of this study mission brought home meaningful experiences, but none of them expected to be part of a "surprise" destination wedding. As Jack tells the story, “The last evening we were taken to a really nice restaurant and I noticed at the dance floor there were four friends from Cabinet holding a chuppah. I thought that they might want to do a symbolic ceremony where all the Cabinet members would be married to the Jewish cause. Then I noticed that Susan and Trip Stern were walking towards the chuppah. After 17 years of being married secularly, they decided to have a Jewish wedding among 45 of their best friends.” Indeed, when joining NYLC you can expect the unexpected, including "Making friends for life, all around North America." Jon declares.

"Surprise" Wedding
For Jack, “It became overly apparent during the mission that one cannot distinguish between local and overseas needs. Upon visiting a fascinating community it was obvious that when it comes to Jews of the world, everything is local. Their problems are our problems. This is true for what happens in Israel just as it is true for what happens in Athens."

As a member of NYLC, Jon’s participation in 5 study missions (Berlin, Budapest & Sarajevo, Morocco, Chile & Argentina and lastly in Greece), heightened his awareness about the needs of our Jewish communities oversees and now he is a strong advocate. He concluded, "My heart is with the overseas communities. We need to be there for them. They face tremendous risks and we cannot afford to lose them.”

We thank Jack and Jon as well as the rest of our San Diego members of the National Young Leadership Cabinet: Juli Bear, Jordan Berman, Leslie Fastlicht Russo, Boris Shekhter and Ryan Stone, among others for their leadership and for representing our community at national and international levels.


  1. When reading your article about Ethiopian Jews, I noticed that you use 'that' instead of 'who' - which seems to be the way grammar is heading.

    People WHO
    Things THAT