July 2012 / Av 5772
We are now in the heart of summer. Tens of thousands of Jewish kids around the world are enjoying their time at camp, so this is a perfect time for me to share with you a story of a young lady I met while participating in a JFNA Campaign Chairs and Directors Mission in Odessa, my birthplace and childhood home. Anastasia is a 28-year-old graduate of the Stolyarski Music School, where my grandmother taught for 40 years. After attending Jewish Agency summer camp, she went on Birthright Israel and then a Masa program. She now lives in Tel Aviv, where she is a composer and music teacher. She was with us in Odessa, where she was introducing her Israeli fiancé to her parents.
Anastasia’s story is like some many young adults from the former Soviet Union (FSU)--as well as North America and Europe--whose road to Aliyah began at a Jewish camp. What is so inspiring about Jewish camps in the FSU is that many of the campers discover their Jewishness only days before arriving; many of the counselors are former campers who first encountered their Jewish identities five years prior; other senior staff are former campers and counselors who, after connecting to Jewish life through their own experience at camp, made Aliyah, served in the IDF, studied at university and participated in developing the unique educational programs. Now they are returning as professionals to help the Jewish people in the next generation connect as they did.
There is no better environment to reconnect Jews in the former Soviet Union to the heritage they share with all of us, but spots are limited so thousands of children remain on the waiting list for our summer camp experiences. Jewish Agency summer camps operate around the world. From Europe to Australia, they are among the most powerful drivers of the collective Jewish spirit we have to offer. In the summers to come, I hope that more and more children in the FSU can experience the magic of Jewish camp. And with the continued support of Jewish communities around the world, the possibilities are endless.