Region: Minsk and peripheral communities.
Brief history of the community: Jewish history in the country starts in XIV century. During the mass migration after the Soviet Union collapse more than 62,000 people left the country. There are 14,000 Jews living in Minsk and an additional 30,000 in the rest of Belarus. There are also big communities in Brest, Vitebsk, Mogilev, Grodno, Bobruysk, Polotsk, Mozyr, Baranovich and Pinsk.
Every year hundreds of Jewish children, teenagers and students participate in the Jewish Agency camping programs in Belarus.
There is a Jerusalem street in the capital of Belorussia, Minsk.
In summer 2012 351 Jewish children and youth participated in the Jewish Agency summer camp program in Minsk.
About the camp by campers and counselors:
Vlada, 13 years old, Vitebsk: Before the camp I was a 13 year old girl like any other in my class. But in summer my life changed. I was invited to the Jewish Agency summer camp, in order to be more precise to a Jewish Investigation Bureau. As I was explained in the camp every summer counselors invent some game that makes camp sessions and activities funnier. This year all the campers became special Jewish Agents who were trying to uncover different events in Jewish history. Every day we “travelled” to a different year and made our research.
I liked the Shabbat ceremony a lot!
We also travelled to former Jewish shtettles Ivie and Volozhin where we were looking for relatives of the President of Israel Shimon Peres. Did you know that he is a Belorussian Jew as I am? And we succeeded in the case. We found his family in Volozhin!
I loved the games counselors offered us. I learnt to play in a team and listen to what other people say.
I come to the camp not just to have fun but also to learn. Every year is special! I wish I come to the camp next year!
Alisa, 16 years old: It is my 4th time in the Jewish Agency summer camp and every summer I wait eagerly for the day when I come here. I have many friends here from different towns of Belarus. We stay in touch during the year and are very happy to meet in the camp.
Every camp is very special for me. I like speaking to other campers about different Jewish themes. I do not have many opportunities like that in my everyday life. My parents do not know a lot about Judaism and my classmates are mostly not Jewish. I like learning about my people.
One of the most memorable events in the camp 2012 was the site visit to one of the former Jewish shtetles, Volozhin. There are no Jews living there today and there I no one to keep the old Jewish cemetery in order. When we arrived there without any word we started cleaning the cemetery.
The most emotional session was about Holocaust history. We had a privilege to host a Holocaust survivor in our camp. She told us her story and answered our questions and I’m so grateful for this old woman!
These 10 days of the Jewish Agency summer camp were the best in my summer vocation!
Iliya: It is my 5th time in the camp and I remember every one of them day by day! Here I’ve learnt so much about my Jewish heritage and there are so much more to learn! I’m sure that next year we will meet here again!
Karina, 13 years old: I’ve been coming to the Jewish Agency summer camps since I was 8 years old. I learn a lot from counselors and they are like my elder brothers and sisters always ready to help. When I finish school I will also apply for the Jewish Agency counselors’ training course!
Lyosha, counselor: It was my first time working a counselor. There are many hard moments in a counselors work and it does not matter how nay times you’ve been a camper yourself. Campers have so many questions and you have to help every one of them to find their own way to their Jewish heritage.
The hardest moment but at the same time the brightest was the Holocaust studies day when we planned to speak about this very uneasy period in Jewish history. I did not want them cry, it just feel sorry for those who did not survive. I wanted them to learn and understand what happened and why it is important to remember about Holocaust even today.
Yuliya, 20 years old, counselor: Last year when I finished high school and just passed my exams to university I could not imagine that this summer I will be working a counselor in the Jewish Agency summer camp.
I passed a year-long training and found myself standing in front of a group of 20 teenagers looking at me and smiling. That’s how we started. During these 10 days we’ve become friends. We had fun and serious conversations. I never thought that you can learn from being a counselor but that’s what happened to me. And I’m very grateful for this experience. It showed me how important is not to be afraid and lead the community!