Russian Jewish Camping in North America

Summer camps have always been a hallmark of North American Jewish life. This past summer, two unique programs proved that this experience is also becoming important for Russian speaking Jewish families. Both J. Academy, located at the grounds of Camp Shalom in Gravenhurst, Ontario, and the Havurah program at Camp Tel Yehudah in Barryville, New York, offered teenagers a meaningful Jewish encounter in a comfortable and friendly environment.

Participants included over 200 teens from Russian speaking Jewish families from the United States and Canada. Through the use of arts and culture and an exploration into classical and contemporary Jewish texts, the teenagers learned about their heritage. A group of older campers also participated in activities designed to teach them how Jewish values can be used to inspire change in the world.

One camper, Angelina, was so excited about the opportunity that she saved up money in order to attend J. Academy. “This camp was incredibly different from others I have been to because here there were Russian Jews and there were no barriers and struggles between us. Since everyone at camp was a Russian speaking Jew like myself, they could understand me and I could understand them.”

But it wasn’t only the teens that had a special summer experience. For their parents, it was a way to bond with their children and fondly remember their own nights around the campfire, since camp was an important part of growing up in the Former Soviet Union. Now, with Havurah and J. Academy, their children are able to attend a camp where they can celebrate their unique identity.

Funding for the two programs comes from the Genesis Philanthropy Group, in partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the Foundation for Jewish Camp. In addition, the Ontario-based J. Academy is part of a larger initiative focused on the Russian speaking Jewish community funded by the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto in partnership with the Genesis Philanthropy Group.