Betsy Gidwitx Reports
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Visits To Jewish Population Centers
And Summer Camps In Ukraine

July 14-30, 1997
(continued)


27. Jewish Agency (Sochnut) camp near Dnipropetrovsk. The Jewish Agency for Israel operates a camp near Dnipropetrovsk that accommodates 148 adolescents in each of two nine-day sessions and 100 college students in a separate six-day session.26 The Dnipropetrovsk camp enrolls campers in the region extending from Dniprodzerzhinsk in the north to Melitopol and Berdyansk in the south and Kriviy Rih and Kirovohrad to the west. Other Sochnut camps in eastern Ukraine are located near Kharkiv and near Donetsk.

This writer first met with Israel Rashal, the outgoing Sochnut director for the Dnipropetrovsk/Donetsk region, in an earlier visit to Dnipropetrovsk in March. Mr. Rashal strongly favors limiting enrollment in Sochnut camps to youngsters age 14 and older because they are old enough to consider aliyah to Israel in the near future, e.g., in the Na’aleh 16 program at age 16, Chalom after high school, or another program geared to young people. To target programming to specific age groups, Mr. Rashal and regional Sochnut youth shaliach Raviv Karasuk reserved the first camp session (which was visited by the writer on its second day) for 14- and 15-year olds, and the second ses-sion for 16- and 17- year olds. Mr. Karasuk, who seemed to be a very skilled youth leader, was the actual camp director.


Raviv Karasuk (facing camera) uses game format to teach Hebrew at Sochnut camp in Dnipropetrovsk.


The camp employed 21 counselors, including ten local Ukrainian Jewish young adults who work as youth leaders in various regional population centers during the rest of the year. Most had attended several Sochnut training courses, the results of which were obvious as they mobilized adolescents to participate in re-enactments of several topics in the history of Zionism. Seven Israeli youth leaders, not all of whom speak Russian, were also assigned to the camp; they were assisted by three local people who were both counselors and translators. The camp also employed another local person who is a skilled teacher of Israeli dance.

The theme for the camp was Israel from Legend to the State. Sochnut in Jerusalem had prepared curricula and program material to cover such topics as the Uganda movement, Theodore Herzl, Russian Jewish history, the Shoah, various aliyot, and “Israel -- the reality”. On the day of my visit, campers and counselors were re-enacting various episodes in Russian Jewish history. In a formal education format, the content would have been unbearably arcane and tedious to adolescents; however, the re-enactments that I saw seemed to engage the teens. They had been assigned to about six teams and were well-equipped with appropriate props and crafts materials.

Programs focusing on Israel from Legend to the State continued over five days. The campers also had informal Hebrew lessons and engaged in other activities during this period. Parents were invited to the camp on Saturday, which was noted as Shabbat but not observed in an Orthodox manner.

The camp is located on attractive property. All campers sleep in one large building. The dining hall/kitchen and a central activities facility are other large structures. The site also contains several smaller buildings. Maintenance seemed adequate in most areas.

Mr. Rashal said that the overall cost of the camp was $20 per day for each camper. Rental of the camp site plus food and staff expenses accounted for $17.50 and the remaining $2.50 was required for transportation and security. Campers were asked to pay the cost of one day, but first-year campers were given a discount. In order to permit the maximum number of area youngsters to participate in Sochnut camps, campers were allowed to enroll in the camp for only three summers. The camp had a waiting list that could be addressed only by adding more sessions, an option that was unavailable due to inadequate funding from the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem.

28. Chabad camp near Kharkiv. The Chabad movement in Kharkiv, headed by Rabbi Moishe Moskowitz, operates a summer camp in the village of Lubatin, about a 40-minute drive to the west of Kharkiv.27 The camp offers two three-week sessions, each accommodating 120 campers -- boys in June/July and girls in July/August. About 50 percent of the campers are also enrolled in the Chabad day school in Kharkiv. Campers are charged a “symbolic fee” of 15 hryvnia (about nine dollars). According to Rabbi Moskowitz, the families of more than 90 percent of the campers pay the full fee.28

Ten American counselors who had just completed a Chabad two-year teachers’ seminary in New Jersey led the girls’ camp, backed up by seven local young women (several of whom had dual responsibilities as counselors and interpreters) and eight teachers from the Chabad day school. The teachers served as воспитательници (vospitatel'nitsy or “upbringers”), childcare workers who live with campers and supervise them during chores, preparation for bedtime, waking and dressing, showers, etc. Rabbi Moskowitz paid 50 percent of the airfare of the American counselors, but their work in the camp was on a volunteer basis. One of the ten Chabad young women had been designated as head counselor.

Rabbi Moskowitz said that camp parents were pleased that Americans were the primary staff members as their presence was considered “prestigious” and parents hoped that their children would learn some English from the counselors. Rabbi Moskowitz also said that participation of the vospitatel’nitsy was valued because some parents viewed the American counselors as too young and inexperienced to care for their children.

Rabbi Levi Reitzes and the latter’s wife Esti, associates of Rabbi Moishe and Miriam Moskowitz, are at the camp throughout the six-week season. The Moskowitzes remain in the city of Kharkiv throughout the summer, but they commute to the camp on a regular basis, one or both of them spending several hours at the site almost every day.

The camp property, which is rented from a local factory, is quite compact. Major buildings include two large dormitories, a dining hall/kitchen, and a semi-enclosed auditorium. An inground outdoor swimming pool is not used because it is very expensive to operate. Rabbi Moskowitz said that the institution that owns the camp is gradually selling its furnishings, such as beds and bed linens, in a continuing effort to derive funds from the property; in fact, prior to the opening of camp, Rabbi Moskowitz had worried that an insufficient number of beds would be available for campers.

Two other Jewish summer camps are located in the Kharkiv area. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (O.U.), which operates a high school and youth center in Kharkiv, also operates a co-educational three-week summer camp; because it was just begin-ning its season when I was in Kharkiv, I did not visit it. The Jewish Agency camp serving the Kharkiv region was due to begin the first of its two sessions in August, i.e., after I had departed. Rabbi Moskowitz said that some Jewish youngsters would attend two camps during the summer; boys who attended his camp in June and early July would be able to attend either the O.U. camp or the Sochnut camp as well. Girls who attended the Chabad camp in July and early August would be able to attend the Sochnut camp also. He readily acknowledged that some of the older pupils at his day school preferred the O.U. and Sochnut camps to the Chabad camp because the former are co-educational.

The camp program was similar to that in the Dnipropetrovsk Chabad camp. During the short period that this writer was at the camp, the campers seemed happy and the counselors seemed to have a strong sense of direction and to work well with the campers. The Moskowitzes were so pleased with the American counselors that several were asked to stay on in Kharkiv for the following school year to be teachers and youth leaders. However, it seemed unlikely that any would do so as each had signed contracts for specific teaching positions in the United States.

As in the Yad Yisroel camp operated by Karliner-Stoliner hasidim, this writer met with the American counselors (seven of the ten) to discuss their experiences in the camp. The session was less satisfactory than the meeting in Khmelnitsky due to: (1) lack of time; (2) much less prior contact -- and thus a lower comfort level -- between the interviewer and interviewees as the session occurred just several hours after I had arrived in the camp, whereas the meeting in Khmelnitsky took place at the end of my fourth full day in their camp; and (3) the periodic appearance of Rabbi and Mrs. Moskowitz, who made no attempt to intervene, but whose recurring presence in the background may have inhibited discussion.

In common with the American counselors in the Yad Yisroel camp, the Chabad counselors said that they all had learned about the camp from friends and/or older siblings who had worked at the Kharkiv camp in previous summers. Because most of the counselors were studying at the same Chabad seminary in New Jersey, they had had ample opportunity to share their knowledge of the camp with each other.

None of their parents had objected to their desire to work at a summer camp in Ukraine. Their families all thought it would be a good experience and a mitzvah. The family of one of the counselors was especially pleased that she would be in Kharkiv because the counselor’s forebears had come to the United States from the Kharkiv area.

In discussing the differences between Jewish summer camps in Ukraine and in the United States, the Chabad counselors cited:

- Their own inability to speak and understand Russian, which caused many communications problems; the local counselor/interpreters were very helpful, they said, but some communications difficulties persisted.

- The large proportion of girls from broken homes and troubled families; these youngsters required substantial attention, but language problems complicated communications.

- Poor personal hygiene practices of the campers, some of which were caused by widespread acceptance of numerous superstitions concerning the origins of various diseases.

- The Ukrainian campers were more appreciative of attention, small favors, and modest gifts, probably because of the emotional and material fragility of their lives in troubled, impoverished families; they rarely complained about anything.



26. In common with the Sochnut camp near Khmelnitsky, many of the campers are from mixed families and are not halakhically Jewish. However, they are all eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.
27. The writer has visited Kharkiv on at least four different occasions, most recently in March 1997. She is well acquainted with Rabbi Moishe and Miriam Moskowitz.
28. Two other Jewish summer camps are located in the Kharkiv area. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (O.U.), which operates a high school and youth center in Kharkiv, also operates a co-educational three-week summer camp; because it was just begin-ning its season when I was in Kharkiv, I did not visit it. The Jewish Agency camp serving the Kharkiv region was due to begin the first of its two sessions in August, i.e., after I had departed. Rabbi Moskowitz said that some Jewish youngsters would attend two camps during the summer; boys who attended his camp in June and early July would be able to attend either the O.U. camp or the Sochnut camp as well. Girls who attended the Chabad camp in July and early August would be able to attend the Sochnut camp also. He readily acknowledged that some of the older pupils at his day school preferred the O.U. and Sochnut camps to the Chabad camp because the former are co-educational.

 
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