Despite the economic downturn, Jewish summer camp programs continue to expand. This year, several new camps opened in North America, and retreats sponsored by organizations including the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) reached enlarged audiences in the countries of the FSU and eastern Europe.
At JDC sponsored summer retreats, programs for toddlers to teenagers and their families combine Jewish education 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.
One such participant, 7-year old “Paula,” whose eyes glow as she sings one of the new Hebrew songs she recently learned, is the first member of her family in 70 years to be born with the choice to openly practice Judaism. The great-granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, whose grandparents and parents lived with Communist and post-communist taboos on Jewish identity in Poland, is grasping Jewish life with both hands, dancing and creating beautiful Jewish-themed art, at one such family retreat.
“By tapping into the unquenchable thirst for Jewish knowledge and celebration in parts of the world where Jewish life was almost lost to the horrors of Nazism and to Communism, we are contributing to a new generation of Jewish leaders. Our summer retreats provide life-changing opportunities for children and their families to reconnect with their Jewish culture and identity,” said JDC CEO Steven Schwager.
More than 60 JDC-sponsored retreats throughout Europe and the former Soviet Union are providing summer programs focused on Jewish learning and outdoor adventures. JDC summer programs in Europe can be found 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, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
Among retreats in the FSU contries, JDC’s partnership with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews 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 serves approximately 27,000 at-risk Jewish children.