Svetlana is raising her little girl Natalia, age 5, alone in a tiny two-room home that has no running water or indoor plumbing, and nothing but an oven to keep them warm in the cold Belarussian winters. Supporting her daughter on a cleaner’s monthly salary of $88 would be excruciatingly difficult under any circumstances; but Natalia’s needs as an epileptic, who also suffers from frequent sinus trouble and adenoid infections, make it impossible.
JDC provides the family with vital help such as heating wood for the winter, and clothing, shoes, and school supplies for Natalia in the fall. But what they both look forward to most of all is summertime, when they can take a break from the harsh reality of their daily lives to attend a JDC Shabbaton for families with children with special needs.
Like thousands of children and parents across Europe and the former Soviet Union, Svetlana and Natalia are thrilled to participate in one of the myriad JDC Jewish camping programs that have been bringing together Jews throughout the region for over 20 years. Active in every season and for every age group – whether regional summer “sleepaways” or day camps for kids; year-round family shabbatons, weekend retreats, or intergenerational camps; madrichim (counselor) training sessions for young leaders; or golden age camps for seniors – these experiences often serve as a powerful entree into Jewish life and a welcome reprieve for those with challenging personal situations like Natalia and Svetlana’s.
This year nearly 15,000 children and adults will participate in JDC’s camp programs, which will include over 130 camps in 20 countries across Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
“Thank you for the well organized event, the attention you gave to our children, the rest for us parents, and the great meals,” wrote Svetlana after participating in a recent Minsk Shabbaton. “We are grateful for the opportunity to participate in such an experience and wish JDC prosperity, success, and the possibility to organize such events in the future.”
image: parents and children join a conga line at the Mazel Tov family camp near Minsk.
courtesy American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee