This year, Brooklyn became a summer haven for children from the beleaguered town of Sderot, which suffers from ongoing rocket barrages from the Gaza strip. The Jewish Agency, together with local FSU communal organizations, created a recreational and educational experience that benefited Sderot’s children and the Brooklyn volunteers who expressed their solidarity with them.
The program included activities at the Brooklyn College Hillel which linked young students with Sderot children, many of whom share origins in the FSU. The children were hosted by “Babushkas” who offered warmth, hearty meals and gifts in the tradition of Jewish grandmothers.
A highlight of the program was a special event on July 30, which included performances by the children and talks by local leaders about their support for Sderot in coping with the damage and disruption caused by the ongoing attacks. The event drew a great deal of attention from the New York’s Russian language media, including interviews on two local radio stations and coverage in newspapers and television.
The inspiration for the New York program had its origins in the efforts of 20-year-old Cornell University student Masha Rifkin, who had volunteered in Sderot when she participated in an Israel study program. She wanted to make a personal effort to improve the lives of the children of the city. She spoke to her parents, who enlisted the Russian speaking Boston community in fundraising efforts which succeeded in bringing 20 Sderot children to Boston for a month-long summer camp. The camp activities included amateur theater, and a performance in which the children brought the Sderot experience to life for the community.
Plans are now underway for another New York program next year. Masha’s initiative—and the collaboration between the Jewish Agency and local communities—demonstrate the potential for strengthening the spirit of Jewish Peoplehood among Russian émigrés. The hope is that many more young adults with roots in the FSU will follow in Masha’s footsteps and participate in volunteer programs in Israel. The experience offers an extraordinary opportunity for growth and enrichment that will nurture a new generation of young leadership among FSU émigré communities.
Young Tomer from Sderot , finds shelter with New York student volunteers.
The Staten Island Ferry was the site for the conclusion of a day long event for children from Sderot and Brooklyn college students.
Cornell University student Masha Rifkin and Jewish Agency representative Anna Vainer speak about the importance of the experience of volunteering in Israel
Brooklyn “babushka” Tzila and young Sabrina from Sderot share an embrace.