Jewish Camping Builds Community Across Europe, Israel and the FSU

It’s summertime, and Jewish camping is in full swing around the world. Not only in North America, but in Europe, Israel and the countries of the former Soviet Union. Beginning today, eJewish Philanthropy will look at a number of programs being run with assistance from (alphabetically) Genesis Philanthropy Group, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, JDC, the Jewish Agency and UJA Federation-NY. We begin today with stories of JDC camps in Belarus.

For Natalia, a 5-year-old from Belarus, and nearly 15,000 Jewish children and their families, this summer will be filled with memorable celebrations of Jewish life and identity. In more than 130 family and youth retreats and Shabbat weekends across 20 countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) provides summer excursions focused on Jewish learning and outdoor adventures.

“Through our summer retreats and other activities, we’re helping build and train the next generation of Jewish leaders in countries where Jewish life was almost blotted out. Whether they are Jewish children with special needs, from families reconnecting to their Jewish heritage, or simply those seeking summer fun filled with Jewish culture, JDC is there to ensure they find it,” said JDC CEO Steven Schwager.

JDC summer programs are based in Europe in Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and the Balkans. Across the former Soviet Union, retreats take place in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Among other things, JDC summer programs offer toddlers, teenagers, and their families Jewish educational experiences combined with art, drama, English language studies, computers, sports, dancing and music. Children from the full spectrum of Jewish affiliation, from large cities and remote villages, experience a renewed commitment to their Jewish heritage.

Among retreats in the former Soviet Union, JDC’s partnership with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, led by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, ensures that children, youth, and families at risk or those who are economically disadvantaged receive a summer camp experience. The IFCJ-JDC Partnership for Children in the FSU is responsible for year-round welfare and relief programs for more than 30,000 Jewish children at risk in the region.

images: top – for more than 20 years the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation/JDC International Summer Camp in Szarbas, Hungary, has been the catalyst for campers, counselors and senior staff from 20+ countries; photo by Zoltan Szabo

middle – camp director Irina and camper Agata gear up to celebrate the 10th anniversary of JDC’s Olameinu Baltic summer camp, welcoming hundreds of campers at sessions in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania this summer; photo by JDC

bottom – Israeli folk dancing at JDC’s family camp in Ukraine; photo by Sarah Levin

You can read about other summer camp programs geared to the Russian-Jewish community here.