Imagine two boys, ages 10 and 11, coming to attend a Jewish camp in the beginning of the summer and proclaiming: “We hate Jews! We are not Jewish!”
This was the case with two cousins starting FJC’s summer camp in the city of Sochi this summer. They proclaimed their “feelings” on the first day of camp, and continued saying this for quite a while. Now, these sentiments may sound shocking to a Western mind, especially coming from a Jewish child’s mouth, but, unfortunately, they are not surprising. Being a Jew was shameful and embarrassing in the Soviet Union – a feeling instilled in a person as early as kindergarten and cultivated by the surrounding propaganda to the point of becoming almost instinctive.
Since the fall of the Iron Curtain much has been done to change the self-image of the younger Jewish generations, but sentiments of denial and aggression, like these of the two boys’ in camp, still lurk on the edges of post-Soviet mentality.
Happily, the FJC’s summer camps themselves provide children with the tools to combat the remnants of Soviet anti-semitism. Since 1991, they continue to be one of the leading sources of Jewish revival in the FSU countries. Young, energetic camp counselors lead the children in Jewish songs and activities, exploring the depth and beauty of Jewish heritage, while experienced educators and mentors teach them about their traditions and culture.
Combined with educational programs, sports, trips, workshops, arts and crafts, swimming, hot nutritious meals and humanitarian aid such as clothing and psychological treatment to needy campers – the camps present children with an optimal Jewish summer vacation. Such an opportunity is especially important for children from families of low socio-economic standing, who would not have a chance for a vacation otherwise.
Over 5,000 children are attending FJC camps this year, with 61 camps active in 8 FSU countries. The lessons, the programs, and most importantly the people they meet and the friendships they form help children overcome the fears they might have had, and provide a continuing source of pride and encouragement down the road to adulthood.