Kolker Fellow Compares Jewish Baltimore to Europe

When Marcelo Dimenstein arrived in Baltimore as the Kolker Fellow, what he knew about the city came from watching The Wire.

He knew even less about its Jewish community. Yet after a week of meeting with leaders and visiting The Associated’s agencies, he came away with an appreciation of how our federation works – along with a few surprises.

Marcelo, who serves as operations director of the Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) Centre for Community Development in Barcelona, visited Baltimore as part of this professional exchange program, funded by the Kolker-Saxon-Hallock Foundation in honor of Jon Kolker’s Presidency at JDC. He wanted to learn about our community structure, while engaging in meaningful conversations with professionals about Jewish life and social welfare issues.

Baltimore Impressions: A Community Stands Out

During the week, Marcelo visited Associated agencies, enjoyed a film at the Baltimore Jewish Film Festival, and even read to a class of four-year-olds, as part of Jewish Volunteer Connections Bookworms program. While attending DFI’s diversity workshop, he admitted It was great to hear how Baltimore talks about diversity in the Jewish community, from mixed marriages to racial inclusiveness to disabilities. “In Europe, we are behind in this critical discussion.”

When asked what impressed him about Baltimore’s Jewish community. Marcelo had much to say. First was its incredible lay/professional relationship. That was particularly evident while sitting in on a Baltimore-Odessa Partnership meeting, with lay/pro discussions about the Partnership’s allocations for next year.

“It was remarkable how well lay and professionals work together to make decisions. Being an overseas organization, JDC has a totally different relationship between lay and professional leaders, which makes it more challenging. Your lay leaders are very invested in your community.”

After meeting with Rabbi Jessy Gross, Marcelo was intrigued with her unique way of reaching young adults and even more impressed with the fact that an organization would support this innovation.

“The fact that an organization like The Associated sees what needs to be done to reach Jewish young adults and is willing to invest in this idea is so different than what you’d find in Europe. In Europe, our rabbis are more conservative and focused on institutional work. That such a possibility exists in the federation world is so impressive and important to the future.”

During his visit, Marcelo spoke to The Associated’s Board of Directors, and among other things, shared insights on European Jewry. He noted that among American Jews, there is a perception of growing anti-Semitism in Europe and of large numbers of Jews making Aliyah. Although there is anti-Semitism in Europe, and that is a serious concern, he says, there is no mass exodus from Europe. European Jewish leaders are also very much concerned about Jews attachment to Jewish organizations.

“Baltimore Jews Remind Me of My Home”

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Marcelo grew up in a conservative Jewish home. He was bar mitzvahed and participated in youth groups and the local JCC. After attending university, where he studied social anthropology, he landed a job at the JDC. He has worked for the organization’s European division for the past eight years, first in Paris and now in Barcelona.

Having lived in Europe and in Argentina, Marcelo finds that Baltimore reminds him of the Buenos Aires Jewish community that he grew up in.

“This was a fantastic week. The Kolker fellowship allowed me to have a first-hand experience with an outstanding Jewish Federation and served, at the same time, as a unique professional development opportunity. After my time in Baltimore, I feel I’m a better Jewish professional.”

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