This month, young Jews from a dozen distinct countries spanning across Europe, Africa, and Asia, gathered for the Yael Foundation’s annual summer camp in Warsaw. While they conversed in different languages and wore different clothes, it was clear that these kids shared many more similarities than differences.
What drew these kids together was the Yael Foundation, a renowned Jewish organization committed to advancing Jewish education worldwide, by strengthening Jewish youth’s connection to their Jewish identity and tradition. With a primary focus on strengthening young Jews’ connection to their Jewish roots and customs, the foundation, established by philanthropists Uri and Yael Poliavich, operates across five continents, supporting over 60 Jewish educational initiatives.
Annually, the foundation’s summer camp brings together students from these institutions and programs, from places like New Zealand, Vancouver, Casablanca, and Brazil, to foster an empowering community and connect them to their heritage.
This year's venue was Warsaw, marking the camp's third consecutive year. The camp drew 170 children who participated in either the boys' or girls' camp. For some children, like those from remote locations such as Morocco and Georgia, it was their first interaction with their Jewish heritage.
This year welcomed a special group of campers who journeyed for over 30 hours to arrive from war-torn Ukraine. Since the outbreak of the war over a year and a half ago, many of these children have not left their homes due to the fierce fighting. For many, not only was this a chance to just be kids again, but it was also an exciting reunion with their friends who had been evacuated to other European countries and Israel.
Due to the heavy influence of the Soviet Paw over Ukraine along with many other countries, many Jews had to suppress their Judaism and could not practice it openly. The suppression of their Judaism in Soviet times led many Jews to not be connected to their religion or pass down its culture and traditions from one generation to the next. The Yael Camp gave all kids the chance to reconnect with their Jewish Identity, culture, and history. Even if they were never exposed to Judaism before the camp provided these kids the first step into finding themselves.
Camp was conducted in four languages
Due to the diverse population, the camp was conducted this year in four different languages: English, Russian, French, and Hebrew. The camp leaders worked hard to create lessons and activities that would educate, inspire, and excite the diverse campers.
"This year, Jewish children from near and far countries return to Poland for a summer camp that strengthens their Jewish connection and Identity."Rabbi Shmuel Azman
Rabbi Shmuel Azman, the chairman of the Yael Foundation, summed up this year's success.
"Creating unique and fun experiences for children who come from different cultures and languages is an amazing challenge," he said "I am pleased that we met this challenge and that it even exceeded our expectations. I have no doubt that the children are returning to their countries full of experiences, lessons, and friendships that will stay with them the rest of their lives.”
Azman sees the fact that the camp took place in Poland this year as a touching moment of Jewish history coming full circle.
"One hundred years ago, Poland was the epicenter of traditional and vibrant Jewish civilization, one of the greatest communities in the Diaspora. On Yad Vashem's website, it states that “Jews lived in Poland for over 800 years before the Nazi occupation. On the eve of the German occupation of Poland in 1939, 3.3 million Jews lived there. At the end of the war, approximately 380,000 Polish Jews remained alive, the rest having been murdered, mostly in the ghettos and the six death camps: Chelmo, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau.
"In total, 90% of the Jewish population in Poland was brutally and tragically erased in the Holocaust. This year, Jewish children from near and far countries return to Poland for a summer camp that strengthens their Jewish connection and Identity. I’m sure that those above are rejoicing in this.”
One of the highlights of this year’s program was the chance for campers to delve into Europe and Poland’s extensive Jewish history. The campers visited the unique Jewish Museum of Warsaw, the historic Great Synagogue, and many more sites.
Already, the foundation’s leadership is working on next year’s plans, united by their shared vision of deepening the love for our Jewish identity and tradition in every corner of the world.