This summer, some 12,000 children, youth and young adults from the former Soviet Union (FSU) enjoyed camp experiences that provide full immersion in Jewish life. As in any major production, the investment of prodigious behind-the-scenes efforts made this huge undertaking possible.
Everyone involved – from camp directors and administrators to counselors, campers and their families – gratefully acknowledges the essential support of North America’s Federations underlying this effort. Creating camping experiences in regions across the FSU is a daunting enterprise, from the logistics of leasing the sites to the creative development of programs and day-to-day operations. Economic challenges also abound, given the high rate of inflation throughout the FSU.
Yet, everyone who dedicates heartfelt efforts on behalf of FSU camping experiences recognizes their tremendous value in nurturing Jewish identity and is inspired by the impact of camp on the lives of young Jews.
Zhenya, age 15, did not even know he was Jewish until this summer. His mother’s desire to enroll him in a Federation-sponsored camp in Minsk prevailed over his father’s wariness that open expression of Jewish identity would be a magnet for anti-Semitism. At the conclusion of the camp session, Zhenya expressed his pride and enthusiasm in learning of his heritage and is eager to join a Jewish club in his home town of Bobruisk, a Belarus city whose Jewish population in 3,000 of a total population of 230,000.
Twelve-year old Elana of Moldova, looked forward to attending camp this summer, encouraged by friends who had attended the previous summer. Elana found camp to be “like a fairytale come true.” Each day brought to life another chapter in the history of the Jewish people. Most impressive was the enactment of the exodus from Egypt, and the last day of camp featured a large-screen video trip to Israel. She was impressed by the Israel’s beauty and hopes to participate in the birthright program in the not too distant future.
There are thousands more stories like Zhenya and Elana’s and Jewish communities in North America can rightfully take pride in their role in rekindling Jewish life in the FSU. This year, the Jewish Agency decided to share the excitement of the camp experience by making a film that showcases our educational work in the summer and winter camps. The film will be distributed to federations and donors as a tool for fundraising, marketing and donor recognition.