Sasha Ben Ari @ the Moscow Summer Camp

by Sasha Ben Ari

Day 1:
The staff has arrived – 14 local and 7 Israeli counselors – and we cannot wait for the campers! I wonder who will be in my group. The campers will decide what interests them – and join that group. Here are their choices:

  1. New message – spends time writing and analyzing texts.
  2. Crossroads – deals with decision making, how Jewish history was created and other questions.
  3. Memory laboratory – will travel through Jewish and Israeli history, trying to understand the phenomenon of memory.
  4. Top secret – is for anyone interested in philosophy and in discovering secrets and uncovering mysteries.
  5. Genius of a place – will create their own planet. They will try to understand life’s daily routines and create a hand-made town.
  6. Eureka – will create new ideas and learn about Jewish start-ups in history and today.
  7. Biography – who are the people who made Jewish history? In this group participants will learn about most important people in history.

I see the buses coming … have to run!

Day 2:
Just one day passed and I feel as if we have been here for at least a week. Yesterday we toured the camp site and discussed the camp’s rules. This morning, we were playing ice-breakers and speaking about ourselves. I could never imagine that so many interesting yet diverse people would gather in one place at the same time.

After lunch (I hope we won’t get soup! I hate it!) we are presenting workshops to the campers. We have drawing, storytelling, dancing, architecture, debate, music, video, advertising, newspaper, photography and cartoons. And everything is in a close connection with Jewish and Israeli themes. If I was choosing I would go to cartoons))))

Day 3:
Today is dedicated to Jewish languages. In the evening we are preparing big language-fest! One of my Hebrew teachers said that every Jew knows Jewish languages from birth, we just forget it as we get older. So in order to start speaking Yiddish, for example, you just have to recall it. With me it never worked. But today everything in our camp is labeled in several languages. Hebrew is everywhere!

Day 4:
I did not notice that it is already the 4th day of the camp until I sat down to write. There are so many things happening every moment! I feel that I’ve known all the campers and counselors for my whole life!

When I studied in University, we had a big group of overseas students. Many of them were Jewish. When we started speaking about where our parents or grandparents were from, we soon found out that all our roots come to Russia, Belorussia, Ukraine and Poland. We are all connected!

Today we are speaking about our history, about our forefathers, about shtetles. How was their life organized? Are some of our activities and routines reminiscent of theirs?

Do you know someone much older than you that keeps a piece of your family history? What would you answer?

Day 5:
We are in the middle of the camp process. We wake up every day hearing Israeli music, got used to soup for lunch (brrr!) and feel ourselves at home here (62 miles away from Moscow!).

Today we spoke about the Holocaust – the biggest tragedy in Jewish history. On the one hand, we are in a Jewish summer camp which is full of fun, but on the other hand, we are in a Jewish camp, and without speaking about the Holocaust, without remembering it, we can’t be Jews.

We are giving a wide range of options (have you noticed that we are giving options wherever it is possible?) for learning about the Holocaust: Films, group discussions, text analysis, and stories of survivors. In the evening, we will sit together with our groups and discuss Jewish values that help us survive the dangers of the past thousands of years.

Please, wish us good luck today!

Day 6:
Today is Friday! I love Fridays! It means that in the evening the routine of the everyday life will step back giving the stage to the most famous Jewish holiday – Shabbat!

In the morning we started preparing by speaking about the Jewish home. What makes a Jewish home really Jewish? Children shared very interesting personal stories. One girl in my group, Katya, said that her grandmother who was communist and did not know anything about Jewish tradition never cooked on Friday evening nor during Saturday saying that it brings “bad luck” to the family. We know where she got this idea, from her Jewish parents!

During the post-lunch break all the counselors will gather in the dining hall to decorate it. I hope it will look like my home at Shabbat with candles and nice dishes.

Shabbat Shalom!

Day 7:
Do you know what time Shabbat ends in Russia during the summer? Nearly 11 pm! The whole day for leisure and pleasure! It was a nice day! In the morning, the whole camp played a game. The campers found themselves during the Soviet / Communist times when being a Jew was not something nice (to put it mildly). The educational aim was to demonstrate Jewish life in the Soviet Russia.

The campers’ goal was to find Jewish underground organizations and movements or even establish new ones while not being found by the authorities (counselors, of course). The game ended when everyone helped organize a chupa, a real Jewish wedding for a young couple. The game took more than 3 hours. We spent hours decorating the area, but the result was worth it.

Many campers called their parents and grandparents after the game and for the first time asked details about their life in the Soviet times! Isn’t it amazing?

Have to go to bed, tomorrow is a new exciting day!

Day 8:
Today is the day of the Book. Jews are called the people of the Book. We could not ignore it in our camp, so today we are speaking about the Tanach (Bible). We’ve brought many copies of the Tanach from Moscow so that every child could see it and touch it. It is hard to imagine, but today in 21st century there are many Jewish children who have never seen a Tanach in their life.

After lunch our camp will take part in the International project “Jews of the world write the Tanach“. We received special forms where every child in the camp will write down a sentence from the Tanach. So our camp will produce couple pages for the hand-written book that will be created in the end of the project. We are writing the beginning of the Malachim chapter. Do you remember what is it about?

Day 9:
The camp is coming to an end, but we still have one very important topic to speak about. Israel! I heard from my parents, who were born and lived for a long time in the Soviet Union, that after the 6-day war they for the first time felt proud to be Jewish and proud to be associated with Israel. For many of the Russian Jewish families, Israel is still something more understandable than Jewish tradition. So many children were waiting for “Israel Day”. Many have relatives in Israel. I hope we have something Israeli for lunch!

It is going to be a calm day, with a lot of discussions in small groups, including talks about our families.

Day 10:
The last day of camp! Today every group will present the results of their work during camp. The camp is decorated with photos, architectural layouts, music etc. The whole day we will spend visiting other groups and learning about their experiences.

It is amazing how these children, who came with very little Jewish knowledge 10 days ago, organized their new experiences and presented them to one another.

We will meet again next year!

Sasha Ben Ari is a facilitator for counselor training courses in both Moscow and Israel. During the summer Sasha works as a counselor in the camps.

courtesy Jewish Agency for Israel