Brief history of the community: Odessa through its history is traditionally considered the most Jewish city in the Former Soviet Union. There were already 6 Jews living there in the day of the city foundation in 1795. Even the first Jewish pogroms were registered in Odessa. According to the census (2001) Jews are 1.2% of the city's population and consist of 21,000 people.
In 2012 404 Jewish children and youth participated in the Jewish Agency summer camp program in the region.
Camp dates: August 6-13, 2012 (for 6-12 years old campers).
Camp concept: Camps in Odessa are traditionally called and organized based on "City of Craftsmen" model. Campers arriving to the camp become citizens of a special city where every child can choose what to do. All the Jewish themes raised during the session are explored through arts and crafts. During a session a child can try different arts with special teachers and professional counselors.
Campers were divided into 6 groups. On the first day camp, all 6 of Odessa’s groups were given tents that were set up outdoors. Each group decorated its tent, and campers were encouraged to spend free time in this central gathering place to help foster deeper relationships among campers. The campers responded warmly to this project, and enjoyed decorating the tents with Israeli flags, Hebrew words and phrases, drawings, and poems.
Maxim, 11 years old: “I’ve been coming to the camp since I was 6 and I remember being absolutely lost during free time. This year we received a tent for our group and made it our home. After Shabbat dinner we stayed there until we were called to go to bed. We stayed up telling stories and singing our favorite songs from Kabbalat Shabbat.”
One of the groups group organized Maccabia games, mirroring the international Jewish athletic events held in Israel. Other groups organized activities, including a “Jewish Arts Parade” in which campers presented their arts and crafts projects. Thus, unstructured time was inspired by campers’ creative thinking and innovation integrating with the educational program.
In their own words:
Elina, 22 years old: The youngest boy in my group was 6 years old. He came to camp for the very first time and was very afraid. There were no Jewish traditions in his home. He was lost among the returning campers who were all singing and dancing. I explained everything he wanted to know and did not understand about Judaism, and helped him find others who were attending camp for the first time. We talked; he had more than million questions. After two hours he said, “OK, I got it! I’m Jewish and I’m special!” He ran to join a group playing outside. He became one of the most active, curious campers. On the last day, he promised to return next year.
Petya, 12 years old: In our family we do not speak about being Jewish. My parents made me feel that we were different. I thought that my being Jewish was a secret, or a bad thing. My parents allowed me to go to camp, and it was great here. I learned about Shabbat and met friends who are not afraid of being Jewish. I wish my family would do Shabbat in our home!
Ksenia, 22 years old: It’s my third time at camp. Before, I was sure that camps were just for kids on school vacations. When I came to this camp, I found a new level of discussion and Jewish learning. I learned a lot about Judaism from my family and from my older sister, who is a Jewish Agency Camp counselor, so I felt like I was pretty prepared to be a camper. At camp I met people my age who are interested in Jewish heritage and want Jewish tradition be part of their life. I just can’t explain how great the camp is. It is definitely the best Jewish learning I ever had. Thank you!