Summer Camp Time in the FSU

For nearly two decades, the Jewish Agency’s network of summer and winter camps in the former Soviet Union have reached tens of thousands of children, teens, university-age students and their families, connecting them to their heritage, Israel and the Jewish people. The week-long summer camps, which operate in over 14 cities and towns, immerse campers in a week of Jewish life, learning and culture. This year they will operate in 14 different locations throughout the FSU serving approximately 5000 youth between 7 and 17.

At the Moscow camp, ‘Dialogue’ was the theme. A total of 130 campers participated in a multitude of lively ‘dialogues’; with themselves, between the generations, with Israel, and with Jewish Communities around the world.

Here’s what Marina, one of the Israeli counselors, had to say:

“My name is Marina. I’m 28 and I’ve lived in Israel for many years. I’m an Israeli. I am the Israeli who finished school in Israel, who graduated the University in Israel, who served in the army in Israel. I’m the Israeli who happened to come to Israel thanks to my parents, and who had never before thought of what it meant – to be Jewish. I had mostly associated with the people who came from Russia. The people, whose attitudes to Israel were the same as mine, and who, just like me, did not see the difference between a Jew and an Israeli. I used to say I’m an Israeli: that’s where my Jewish identification reached.

So it had been, until the day came, it was a year ago when I accidentally heard from a friend about school for madrichim (counselors to the FSU summer camps.) I decided it might be of interest to me. I don’t even know why I thought so. I had never before worked with children. And I had never before considered this job as a Job. I had always believed that a madrich (counselor) is someone who was supposed to entertain children and who had at least 253 games for them in “his pocket”. As I saw it this job did not have any relation to education.

But, with every new class, I realized how wrong I had been, and how much in my life I had lost, and how much there was still to learn.

And so I arrived at the camp. Never before had I felt so nervous. I felt like I did not know anything, because one thing was to discuss theoretical stuff and make up class plans, events and discussions, while it was a completely different thing to see these kids face to face. I learned with the kids. It was like mutual exploration of myself, the world around me, my Jewishness, Israel, etc.

It was a Dialogue, a dialogue of generations and cultures. Only at that very moment did I realize what it meant to be Jewish! At that very moment I felt – I was a Jew! I wanted to know more about my family, about my roots. That was when I came to the realization that what I was doing was really important and how significant it was that I should have come to Moscow. I was able to tell these kids about myself and my Israel, so that they could never lose touch with their roots, their Jewishness and with Israel.”

For more on experiences of both campers, and counselors, check out the Jewish Agency’s FSU Summer camp blog.

courtesy The Jewish Agency for Israel.

eJP note: In 1989, with the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union, the gates were opening to an exodus the likes of which we had not previously seen. The United Jewish Appeal – then the umbrella fund-raising arm of North America’s Jewish federations’ campaigns – launched the Passage to Freedom campaign to resettle Soviet Jews in Israel and the United States. The campaign was less than successful, only raising $50 million.

The next year, UJA increased its efforts with another emergency campaign, Operation Exodus, which ultimately collected in excess of $900 million and allowed almost 1 million Jews to immigrate to Israel and 150,000 more to come to the United States. Operation Exodus became the largest emergency fund-raising event in Jewish history.

Marina’s story, and her connection to the Jewish world, is just one of several we will be bringing to you.