The brainchild of Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, 240 Russian-speakers aged 13 to 17 participate in two-week international summer camp.
Scores of Russian-speaking youth from Israel, North America and the former Soviet Union have gathered in Israel for a two-week international summer camp organized by the Jewish Agency and the Genesis Foundation, a philanthropic organization for Russian- speaking Jewry.
The brainchild of Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, 240 Russian-speakers aged 13 to 17 are participating in this year’s Project Rimon summer camps, coming from as far afield as Lithuania, the US, Canada, Bulgaria and the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, including Russia itself.
“The summer camps are a journey,” Udi Grossman, director of Project Rimon, said late last week. “They’re about creating a space where those with questions about their identity can explore and discuss these issues and thereby connect with others who have the same questions.”
Project Rimon, now in its second year, is separated into two camps; Ma.com, situated on Kibbutz Nordiya near Netanya, which began last week, and Isra-Campus, based at the Givat Haviva educational campus near Hadera, which began in late July and held its closing ceremony on Friday.
“Our primary objective, first and foremost, is to create a meeting point for Russianspeaking Jews from abroad with Russian-speaking youth in Israel,” said Rina Gerber, manager of Ma.com. “But the camp also provides the space and framework for the children to express what their Jewish identity means to them, especially the Israelis who otherwise don’t have the opportunity to discuss such issues.”
The daily activities at the summer camps revolve around a number of groups and workshops, including theater, dance, design, visual communications, writing and media.
Some of the Israeli campers spoke of discrimination they had experienced in the past, with some mentioning being insulted as “pig-eaters” and “non-Jews.” They said, however, that such instances of racism have decreased as they have grown up.
“Jews are all brothers and have a connection to each other all around the world,” 16-year-old Israeli camper Natanel said in perfect, yet heavily accented, Hebrew.
“What’s important is to guard Judaism and to guard the Jewish people.”
Zhenya, 14, from Russia, who was attending Isra-Campus, said she doesn’t really like living in Moscow. “Some of my friends don’t mind it so much, but I feel more at home and more comfortable in Israel,” she said.
Life-long educator and manager of Isra-Campus Dima Zitzer said emphatically that youngsters from the Russianspeaking community have a greater Jewish identity than average Israeli children.
“The kids from the former Soviet Union understand what it is to be Jewish more than other Israeli kids,” he said, simply because they or their parents, having lived in the Diaspora, automatically defined themselves as different, as Jewish.
“If I ask a secular kid ‘what makes you Jewish,’ he will have a very hard time answering me, which is not the case with the Russian-speaking youth.”
Meital, 15, another Israeli camper at Ma.com, said that feeling Jewish is about “about internal faith and what you believe,” and less about outward signs. “But I want my children to have a Jewish education and Jewish values, she said, citing a dictum from the Talmud, derech eretz kadma latorah, ethical behavior precedes observance of the Torah.
Grossman said, “It’s complicated for children of this age, because they are looking and searching for answers. These camps give them the chance to ask the questions, and we hope that we can help them understand from where they came and to where they’re going.”