Szarvas – Through Our Children's Eyes

From left to right: Jennifer Gross, Matthew Gross, Sara Waxman, Bettina Waxman, Laura Spitzer, and Ben Gargano.
From left to right: Jennifer Gross, Matthew Gross, Sara Waxman, Bettina Waxman, Laura Spitzer, and Ben Gargano. photo: Courtesy of Laura Spitzer

Our kids were among 75 American teens to participate as fellows this summer at Szarvas, JDC’s pioneering international Jewish summer camp. Szarvas, located in rural Hungary, offers a unique experience for about 1,500 children and young adults each summer hailing from more than 25 countries.

Witnessing the inspiring enthusiasm that Szarvas campers feel toward their Jewish identities made seeing our kids frankly just a bonus. The visit brought tears to our eyes, joy to our hearts, and undeniable hope for our collective future.

Szarvas, founded in 1990, has been central to Jewish renewal in communities in Central and Eastern Europe since the fall of communism. It not only provides children and teens an immersion into Jewish life and a critical connection with their Jewish peers from around the world; it also serves as an incubator for Jewish leadership.

For our children, their Szarvas journey began with two days in Budapest with a contingent of 25 Israeli teen contemporaries, learning about the city and country’s rich Jewish history. Our kids told us that bedtime discussions ranged from the Cold War to belief in a higher power, from American and Israeli policy to college applications and gap year plans.

More broadly, the bonds between the teens – who hailed from countries as diverse as Romania, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Poland, Latvia, Moldova, and Lithuania – came easily. On a core and gut level, they all spoke the same “language,” not just through sports and in song, but more importantly, in shared and common heritage, history, and values. The mutual respect that evolved was inspiring.

Each of our children added about 100 new Facebook friends – both their American counterparts and new connections from around the world.

Szarvas is a linchpin of JDC’s strategy and impact in Europe and the former Soviet Union. For more information, watch this video.

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Jennifer Gross is a member of UJA-Federation of New York’s Board of Directors and Chair of the Women’s Executive Circle; Bettina Waxman is a member of JDC’s Ambassadors Steering Committee (wife of JDC Board member Spencer Waxman); Laura Spitzer is an Executive Director for Strategic Partnerships at JDC.

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