A year abroad – with the Latvian Jewish community

 

For that first job out of college, many people head to the office. One headed for adventure abroad.

Molly Kazan, 22, is spending a paid year immersing herself in the needs of a Jewish community overseas as a part of her fellowship with JDC Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps. Kazan graduated from the University of Wisconsin ­– Madison in May.

“I wasn’t familiar with anyone in this part of the world,” she said about Riga, Latvia. She arrived in September and said the Jewish community is “vibrant and totally thriving.”

Molly Kazan exploring the Old Town in Riga, Latvia

She’s working in youth engagement and youth programming in Latvian Jewish life, including at a local Jewish center. Kazan is developing a Sunday-school curriculum and planning upcoming Chanukah events for all ages. She also teaches an adult English class once a week.

She spends time with the 5-year-old kindergartners at Riga Simon Dubnov Jewish Secondary School. When the children first see her in the morning, they run to her and “babble at me in Russian,” she said. She leads Hebrew and English songs and teaches them about Judaism through activities, she said. “Their spirit and energy make me so happy,” she said.

Kazan takes a tram to work and is living alone for the first time. For her own house-warming gift, she “made a challah in my new apartment,” she said. She also has Wisconsin décor and family photos to remind her of home.

Kazan did a semester abroad in Israel at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2017, where she realized that “my Jewishness extended beyond the borders of my country,” she said.

Kazan cannot tell yet where this year will lead her and said, “I am trying to become comfortable with the unknown.”

By next September, she said that she hopes to return to Milwaukee with a “wider network of friends and extended family in Riga.”