Camp participants
Camp participantsElisha Hankin, Yesha Council

Last week, a unique summer camp for refugee families and students from the Jewish communities in Ukraine concluded in the French Alps.

It was the first summer camp of its kind held by an Israeli organization since the outbreak of the war, and was designed to give the refugees, who were forced to leave the Jewish communities in Ukraine and have been living in various places in Europe for the past six months, not only a respite but also in-depth information and the possibility of connecting to Israel from afar.

One hundred refugees gathered in the week-long camp, including families with small children and students who came from all over Europe: Zurich, Slovakia, Budapest, Germany and even Cyprus.

The summer camp was organized by the Midrasha Zionit organization, which operated a series of similar camps in the countries of the former Soviet Union for years, and which has the appropriate experience and staff, in cooperation with Yesha Council and the Conference of European Rabbis.

The camp was conceived and led by Shlomo Neeman, the Mayor of Gush Etzion and head of the Eastern European desk in Yesha Council. He said: "We gathered Jewish students and families who were forced to flee the war zones in Ukraine and now live as refugees from all over Europe in the countries in the region. This camp is an island of stability for them. One of the participants approached me and said: ‘I’m smiling for the first time in six months.’”

“The participants here are having both a Jewish and a Zionist experience, as well as a simple human experience that takes them out of hell and their day-to-day difficulties. Our main task in these five days is to open wide the door to the State of Israel for them, to bring them closer and tell them that the communities of Judea and Samaria are waiting for them. I would like to thank the partners who organized and financed these days, and especially Yesha Council who rallied to carry out the task of absorbing Jews in the communities of Judea and Samaria, and here too are conducting public diplomacy activities and encouraging the absorption of new members in our communities.”

Neeman further emphasized and said, “Beyond everything, this is a humane and Jewish act of the first order. We are engaged in it and that is the only thing guiding us.”

The camp that concluded last week included a rich program of lectures and workshops for all ages. Yesha Council spokesperson Dorit Ostrovsky-Schechter was invited to give lectures on the importance of Judea and Samaria as an inseparable part of the State of Israel, about the various communities and the warm embrace and support the new immigrants receive in Judea and Samaria.

Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the work of the Eastern European desk has been shifted over to providing aid and assistance in Ukraine and to the Jews from the former Commonwealth of Nations. With the help of a special situation room with a team of volunteers working around the clock and thanks to the work of various aid missions that flew to provide aid in Europe, the desk has succeeded in helping hundreds of refugees thus far.

Yesha Council CEO Yigal Dilmoni spoke about the important role that Yesha Council played in the summer camp: “This seminar represents yet another significant step in fulfilling the goal of helping our brothers and sisters at their time of need and absorbing them in the communities in Judea and Samaria. The new immigrants who choose to live in Judea and Samaria not only strengthen the communities and our hold on the land of Israel, but also become part of warm supportive communities and receive a warm, personal welcome from the people living there. This is a significant advantage for people who have become refugees and have been left penniless. There are dozens of families in Judea and Samaria who have already opened their homes and communities and are willing to take in more refugees. We will continue to do whatever we can to support and help our brothers and sisters.”

Polina Sedogorski, the family coordinator in the summer camp, told Israel National News, “I immigrated to Israel in 2013 following a similar camp organized by the Midrasha Zionit, where I learned about Israel for the first time and fell in love with it. When the war broke out, I joined the situation room of the European desk out of a desire to help more people make the connection to Israel. When they asked me to help with the registration of the families for the seminar, I immediately agreed to take on the task because I understand that now it’s my turn to embrace them and help them get to know Israel. Here in the camp, I am the one who is opening the door for them and telling them my story, telling them about the supportive community that embraced me when I immigrated to Israel and how I found my home in Maaleh Adumim.”