Region: Riga and Baltic States
Brief history of the community: The first Jewish presence in Riga is reported in 16th century. Today there are about 30,000 Jews living in the country and most of them in Riga.
In 2012 over 200 Jewish children and youth participated in the Jewish Agency summer camp program in the region.
Camps 2012: The theme of the summer camp session for participants aged 6-12, was “My Jewish journey”. Participants were exploring their Jewish heritage in a virtual journey through Jewish history, tradition and culture. Whole days were devoted to learning about Torah as a main book of Jewish people, Jewish people living in Israel and Diaspora, Israel as a homeland of all Jewish people etc. The camp started with the story of Noah. Participants were offered to build their arks (ships) for the journey. Each group was given a variety of materials and 2 hours’ time to make an ark and present it to the entire camp.
In order to explain the rules of the camp counselors started discussion with the 10 commandments and that helped to define the rules for each group and the camp in general. Campers loved learning about Jewish holidays and heroes of Jewish history that they “met” during the journey. This virtual trip “finished” in Jerusalem as the holy city for Jewish people. Campers compared how Jerusalem was described in Torah, in other ancient texts and in modern literature. Israeli counselors organized an interactive game that showed the campers Jerusalem from different perspectives. The last day was devoted to Diaspora and ways campers can be active in Jewish life living in their towns.
In their own words:
Leonid, 9 years old: It is my first time in the camp. During the year I was going to the Jewish Agency activities center to arts studio where I learn a lot about being Jewish. So I was not afraid going to the camp. Many of my friends were here for many times. I was not even the youngest! The best about the camp is that we do not learn here boring like in school. On the first day we were told that we are going to a Jewish journey and I liked it. I like that I am a Jew. On the very first days we learnt about Noah. He is a great hero and he had so many animals in his ark. So we built our own ark for our group and defined rules for being a group and learning effectively. I also liked Shabbat a lot. I think that being a Jew means celebrating holidays. On Friday morning I was a little upset and did not want to have fun but when I heard my friends singing and saw the decorated dining room I immediately felt better! Jewish holidays make us better, I’m sure! One day I will go to Israel and until then I will be going to camps and art studio.
Daniella, 10 years old: I was in the camp last year and loved it a lot. During the year I study in a Jewish day school but there I do not learn so much. Here in just 7 days we’ve made a journey to our Jewish roots and even “visited” Jerusalem with Israelis who were in our camp. After their stories about Jerusalem and Israel I decided that I have to go there myself. Everyone say that it is not like an ything we are used to. Here in the camp we celebrate Shabbat. It is also something special. On Friday after dinner where we had fantastically tasty food and sang song in Hebrew we went to a big camp fire where we continued singing and even dancing. It was so great being all together.