A one-of-a-kind Shabbaton seminar for Jewish teenagers took place in Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine last month, organized by the EnerJew youth movement. This was the first mass Jewish event for the region’s youth in the last four years, and the first Shabbaton ever in Donetsk. Teenagers from the city of Lugansk and the surrounding region also joined.
Donetsk and Lugansk in East Ukraine have been isolated from the rest of the country since March 2014, when an armed conflict in the region broke out. The conflict led to the virtual disappearance of Jewish life in the region, with hundreds of families fleeing the war zones as refugees. Those who stayed were concerned with procuring food and shelter – community life dissolved into oblivion.
EnerJew Donetsk was the first social organization to come out of the stupor. The club returned to its weekly meetings and activities already in the fall of 2014, seeking out the Jewish teenagers who stayed and getting them involved in positive growth and self-development.
The long-awaited Donetsk Shabbaton took place December 8-10 at a hotel on the city’s periphery. 30 people – 27 of them children, two coordinators and one young rabbi came together for three days to learn about Jewish identity and leadership, connect with each other and their heritage and just have fun.
Out of the 27 young participants, 22 teens were from Donetsk and five arrived from Lugansk.“TheShabbatonn became a meeting point for kids from Donetsk and Lugansk, who know each other from Jewish summer camps in Rostov and were very happy to meet again. It was also the first of everything for them – the first ever Shabbaton for most, the first Jewish seminar in Donetsk, our first opportunity to express ourselves ” said Julia (Chana Leah) Podinovskaya, one of the club’s stoic coordinators.
The seminar passed in an especially warm atmosphere, with Donetsk’s Rabbi Arye Shwartz accompanying the group at all the seminar sessions, even arts classes and a culinary battle. “It really helped that he was always around to give a helping hand and the teens also enjoyed getting to know the Rabbi better,” Podinovskaya said. Since the shabbaton she’s received many phone calls from parents of both the Lugansk and Donetsk children thanking the club for organizing the seminar and asking about future events. The coordinators, EnerJew activists and the community rabbi said they hope to continue further developing the movement in which one can “express yourself and channel your energy on helping the community, the project and the people.”