In Former Soviet Union, Jewish kids flock to summer camps

In summer 2019, the Federation of Jewish Communities has run over 80 programs in seven states.

Children from the former Soviet Union at an IFCJ-sponsored camp. (FJC) (photo credit: FJC)
Children from the former Soviet Union at an IFCJ-sponsored camp. (FJC)
(photo credit: FJC)
Summer camps are considered by many a pillar of the American Jewish experience. But on the other side of the world, in the Former Soviet Union, Jewish camps are also fast becoming an important element to foster the Jewish identity of children and teenagers.
According to a report by the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Commonwealth of Independent States (FJC), in summer 2019 their Gan Israel branch has run over 80 community camps in seven countries. The Commonwealth of Independent States is a network that gathers several post-Soviet republics.

FCJ’s youth movement EnerJew has organized four additional programs for teenagers.
“Ever since the beginning of FJC’s activities in the FSU, summer camps have proven to be one of the most unique and important ways to connect children and their families back to their Jewish roots, nation and tradition,” Daniel Gordon, FJC outreach programs coordinator, said. 
“As the years went by, our network managed, despite the continuing struggle, to continue being attractive and welcoming. So many children look forward to the summer knowing that our camps are not ‘a babysitter’ – they are the place to become stronger, more connected and proud of their heritage like nowhere else,” he added.
One of the achievements that the report highlighted was the fact that while twenty years ago, most of the camps’ staff arrived from abroad, today 95% of them come from the community. 
“We are very lucky in that we get to see the fruits of our labor in them and we hope Gan Israel camps will continue leading local Jewish children on their path home,” commented Rabbi Yakov Sominsky from Veliky Novgorod, a city in Western Russia.
According to the estimates of the 2017 World Jewish Population by the Hebrew University demographer Sergio Della Pergola, FSU is home to 242,000 people who identify as Jewish, and  814,000 people who meet the criteria to immigrate to Israel according to the Israeli Law of Return, which requires a Jewish grandparent.