This year, nearly 15,000 children and adults will participate in the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) camp programs. The most well known of JDC’s camps is Szarvas, in Hungary, which attracts 1,500 campers from 20 different countries.
Not all Jews in Europe and the Former Soviet Union have the means, access to transportation, or desire to travel so far away from their homes, however. The ever-resourceful, consistently present JDC, a United Jewish Federation of Tidewater partner, realized this, and began establishing camps in other locations and regions of the continent.
One of those camps is about 5,000 miles to the east, and slightly north, of Virginia Beach. Camp Cristian is located in a small village in Brasov County, Romania.
The JCC in Bucharest, Romania runs it with the JDC, and receives significant financial support from UJFT. This support is entirely contingent on the generosity of donors who make gifts to the UJFT’s Annual Campaign.
Zoya Schvartzman, director of strategic partnerships, JDC-Europe, visited Tidewater at the end of February. Among other areas of impact she noted that can be directly attributed to Tidewater’s financial contributions, are the changes in people’s lives because they can attend camps, like Cristian.
Speaking to a group over breakfast, Shvartzman showed a video and explained its significance:
“As a result of summer camps, that have been very, very successful…many parents were coming to us and saying, ‘My kid is coming home and she’s learning all of these Jewish songs and Jewish prayers and customs, and I have no idea what they’re talking about. I have no idea what is Modeh Ani, I don’t know what is Oseh Shalom. I’ve never heard these songs, so can we do something about it?’
“We said, ‘Sure. Let’s create a camp for families, and we’ll bring the whole family and not just the children.’ Now we’re doing family camps in the summer, and throughout the year.
“What we’re seeing as a result are more families are now bringing Judaism into their homes. And the shift we’re seeing, is that in more and more families, their Jewish identities are becoming stronger.”
Sandy Katz, JDC’s director of strategic relations, emphasizes the support from UJFT’s donors provides more than just a few days of fun for thousands.
“The generosity of the Tidewater Jewish community continues to ensure the key position of the Jewish camp at Cristian as the center of Jewish renewal in Romania,” Katz says.
“Multi-day programs at the camp enable Jews of all ages to experience the atmosphere of Jewish living, learning and togetherness that makes Jewish camping so special.
“Throughout the year, week-long camps bring together children, teenagers, students, young families and adults of different ages, giving them a rare opportunity to socialize with their Jewish peers from locations across Romania and enjoy being part of a close community.”
Community leader Karen Lombart visited the camp in Cristian with a small group of women in the summer of 2014, and shared some of her insights in the Jewish News. (September 19, 2014)
“Often times, as donors, we struggle with the concept of giving to the invisible. We feel like we are giving to a bottomless well,” Lombart wrote.
“And yet, the seven of us saw, with our own eyes that the invisible is not invisible at all. It is very real to those who live in Romania. The series of 14 week-long camps [at Cristian] has become the lifeline for those who come year after year to explore their heritage; it is the starting point for many Christians who discover that their grandparents were once Jewish, and it is a place to “feel” the intimate connection with the Jewish people.”
by Laine Mednick Rutherford