Baltic Jews Thrive at Summer Camp
By Alex Weisler
Aleksey Dolgov doesn’t have to think twice before telling you what he likes best about JDC’s annual Olameinu summer camp for Jews in the Baltics:
“I love the fact that the camp is international. Here’s the place where we Baltic Jews come together,” said Dolgov, 20, who attended the camp as a child and now works as a madrich. “This is the place where kids and teenagers from Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia feel they are one.”
Dolgov, of Riga, Latvia, is one of the many Jewish children, young adults, and families who participate each summer in Olameinu – “Our World” in Hebrew. The camp, which attracts hundreds over several sessions, includes Jewish cultural and history programs, Israeli dance and song workshops, sports tournaments, and much more.
For 12-year-old Karina Mishel Chaikova from Vilnius, Olameinu is an important reminder of the rich heritage she shares with Jews from neighboring countries.
“Not everyone loves the Jewish people. You can hear remarks, read not-nice articles,” said Chaikova, who attends a Jewish school in the Lithuanian capital city. “But here at Olameinu there are many people like me and we consider each other a big family. We might be totally different in the rest of our lives, but here we feel like brothers and sisters.”
Some Olameinu sessions are specially designed for families.
The Lipkin family of Riga attended a family camp session for the second time this year. Father David credits the program with helping to solidify his family’s Jewish identity.
“We are very active in Jewish life in Riga. We attend holiday celebrations, programs for young families, and much more,” he said. “Camps like Olameinu help us reconfirm our Jewish identity and give us a chance to share that passion with others.”
Dolgov, the madrich, also credits Olameinu with jumpstarting his passion for the Jewish identity he now holds dear.
After attending the camp, he and his sisters went on to participate in Jewish programs and community events in Riga. Dolgov is looking forward to a pan-Baltic Jewish student gathering later this year.
“For me, the camp is 10 days when you are happy to be openly Jewish. And the thing is, I’m proud of it, the rich history of our people,” he said. “There are so many Jews in positions of power around the world, and I’m able to look to them as role models.”
Dolgov said he’s become something of a spokesman and ambassador for Olameinu when he’s back home in Latvia.
And his pitch is simple.
“I talk to them about their Jewish roots and how interesting and amazing it is to learn more about them,” he said. “It’s a good chance to spark that Jewish connection. Olameinu has a very special atmosphere, and the more you go, the more addicted you get.”