Lena an Israeli Counselor @ the St. Petersburg Summer Camp
My name is Lena. I am an Israeli counselor at the Jewish Agency summer camp in St. Petesrburg. I was born in St. Petersburg, at that time, Leningrad. My family made aliya when I was six years old and I have been living in Israel since. I was always looking back and wondering how life turned out for those Jews who stayed. I am fascinated with the Russian Jewish experience.
This year I jumped at the opportunity to train as a counselor and work with the Jewish kids in St. Petersburg during the summer. What a treat! Together with the campers we explored Jewish history of St. Petersburg through our family stories. We even found out that I and one of the campers were living in the same home. Today he attends the same school I went to briefly before moving to Israel. We learnt, laughed and talked together and built connections that span borders. My campers are very interested in Israel. The older ones were asking me about Birthright. I will remain in touch with them after the summer is over and hopefully we will meet again, this time in Israel!
“Traveling through History”
This year the youngest kids aged 7-10 were visiting Jewish Agency summer camp in Repino, one hour driving distance from St. Petersburg, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland. During the week 60 participants had a great educational Jewish experience along with 12 counselors, who established special programming for this age group.
Every day started with a “Boker Tov” (Hebrew for good morning) event – an activity aimed to really wake kids up before breakfast. Every day campers had time to rest after lunch – to sleep, to watch cartoons or to spend time outdoors. Educational activities like group meetings and events for the whole camp were dedicated to different periods of Jewish history and varied from group to group according to the age of participants and special interest of their counselors, who prepared the program.
The camp curriculum looked at Jewish history from receiving the Torah till the establishment of Israel. Among topics discussed were the era of Judges, Golden Age in Spain, shtetls and Hasidism. Kids were exploring these topics in various ways, as soon as every group had its own program. But every kid was able to see the real scroll of Torah on Saturday and to take part in beit midrash, trying to learn Jewish texts the traditional way.
One of the most exciting events was a quest dedicated to the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry. Campers were divided into groups, they visited a sage, who gave them a puzzle. When they solved a puzzle, they would find a way to one of the heroes (Rambam, Yehuda Halevi, Ibn Ezra, Ibn Gvirol), who told them about himself, his life in Spain and the Spanish Jewish community. Finally, kids were collecting parts of the text and a map of Israel. After the quest kids were sharing their Impressions, saying “exciting”, “very interesting” and “with so much information”.
Olga Rutgaizer, camp director, is happy with the camp. She relates that “this year's camp was intensely educational: we usually do not have such an intensive curriculum for kids of this age group, but this time we gave it a try and found them to be happy and wanting more”, she says.
Olga received calls from her campers' parents after the camp was over. They called to thank her and related that their kids were already waiting for the next year's camp. “That’s what I love about my job: we make kids happy," says Olga.
Zhenya Dvortsov - A St Petersburg 2011 Camper
On the first day of camp, we were told that everyone of us will have a choice of activities in different labs. I didn't understand at first what it meant but now I think it's a brilliant idea. Today, I am doing a project through a psychology lab at the camp. We used to do a lot of performance arts at camp before, and this year we are focusing more on learning about ourselves and the world around us. It is really interesting!
Of course I learn a lot about the Jewish people, our history and tradition. Since we don't learn about the Holocaust at school, I think it is appropriate that it comes up a lot. Nearly every day we have activities for the whole camp – parties, movie nights or sports activities. We also have presentations from different groups where everyone gets a chance to speak.
I first found out about the Jewish Agency summer camp from my brother. He was a camper himself and thought I should check it out too. When the camp is over, my connection to community is not – I participate in a theater troupe and in the photo project at the Jewish Agency youth club during the school year.
Camp has definitely enriched my life. I would have been a different person of not for this experience and not for the people I have met here.