This summer FJC’s Gan Israel network ran 40 day-camps and 12 sleep-away camps across the FSU. Close to 4,500 Jewish children attended them and enjoyed a fun, restful and educational summer vacation they would not otherwise have.
What’s more, another four hundred Jewish teenagers worked as Gan Israel camp counselors, junior counselors, and CITs, bringing continuity and new energy to community life. Many of them came from local clubs of FSU’s EnerJew youth movement, which promotes leadership and social Jewish initiative.
“This was the best Gan Israel camp ever,’ says 16-year old Levy from Volgograd, who was a CIT in the city’s two-week sleep away camp. This was Levy’s second year as part of camp’s staff, and he proudly notes that “leading my team was much easier this year, due to experience. Also, the program was innovative, it really got the kids going.”
Sleep-away camps took place at suburban recreational centers and hotels, while day-camps were also held in inter-city locations, such as JCCs in Odessa, Krasnoyarsk, and Perm or even synagogues.
“Vadim and Katia very much liked all camp events and activities,” said Sveta, mother of two from Grodno, Ukraine. “Every day at camp was filled with enticing programs, they came back full of new stories and experiences, brought home a lot of hand-made arts and crafts.”
“We did not know 90% of what our kids told us about Jewish heritage and traditions after their time at camp!” says the Keba family from Krasnoyarsk in their feedback. “Everything was superbly organized and very interesting – we will impatiently await next year’s camp as well as other JCC activities throughout the year.”
FJC’s Summer camps took place in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Estonia, and Georgia. Often they provided the only possibility for a vacation to Jewish kids in the region, so much so that some groups came from far away areas. The sleep-away camp in Rostov, for example, hosted children from war-ridden areas of Eastern Ukraine as well as a group of boys from the city of Nalchik, in the North Caucus, that is some 500 kilometers away.
“There were 18 of us from Nalchik, who came,” wrote 13-year old Daniel in his feedback. “This was my second year here and I liked it just as much. For me and my friends, Gan Israel in Rostov is the only opportunity for a fun Jewish summer!”
Another innovation this summer was the pilot EnerJew camp, that was organized with phenomenal success in Southern Ukraine for Ukrainian children and teens. “We are proud to see that the network continues to develop, while also updating camp activities up to date and bringing in a new generation of camp staff to step up to the task of helping the community,” said Mr. Daniel Gordon, FJC’s resource development coordinator.
The Gan Israel camp network celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. It is operated by the FJC in partnership with foundations, philanthropists and additional supporters across the world.