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Strengthening Jewish Identity in Russian-Speaking Teens

Jewish identity runs strong in Russian-speaking teens, counselors discovered at a camp organized by the Jewish Agency and the Genesis Fund.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 8/20/2012, 8:27 PM

Teens
Teens
Flash90

Jewish identity runs strong in Russian-speaking teens, counselors discovered at a camp organized by the Jewish Agency and the Genesis Fund.

Close to 300 Russian-speaking teens from around the world gathered in Israel this summer for Project Rimon, a two-week effort to instill Jewish identity within the campers. Using Israel as the common denominator, the project attempted to unite Jews of Russian origin from diverse locations around the globe.

"The camp provides youth from abroad with the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the State of Israel and with Israeli society, while Israeli youth expand their familiarity with Jewish life abroad,” explained Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.

Now in its third year, the project was divided into two camp sessions, each comprised of 140 campers. Attendees were able to choose from different tracks – IsraCampus and Makom -- that included options in theater, design, media, music and education, among others.

A major goal of the program, designed by the Jewish Agency and the Genesis Fund, targets Russian-speaking Jewish youth in the former Soviet Union, to help reinforce their bond within the global Jewish community.

"If you asked me last summer when I was a camper at Makom what 'Shabbat' is I would not know how to answer,” said Danik, 15, who came to the camp from Russia. “When my friends ask me about Shabbat, I can now talk about what it means to me, and how it is part of my personal story. I now enjoy discussing my feelings about our traditions with my friends at camp and hearing everyone's opinions about our joint heritage.”

The experience of anti-Semitism was a surprise for some of the campers, who didn't expect to hear about such things from their fellow Jews.

"I am very surprised by the stories I hear from the campers that come from Russia,” said Michal, 14. “My mother has always taught me about anti-Semitism, but I was sure that these were stories from the distant past. It turns out that my friends from Russia have to deal with this ugly phenomena in their schools and on the streets of their towns and have to decide on a daily basis whether or not to stand up for Israel. I have so much respect for them for doing so.”