Looking at 7-year old “Paula,” whose happy eyes glow as she sings one of the new Hebrew songs she recently learned, one would never guess she is the first member of her family in 70 years to be born with the choice to openly practice Judaism. The great-granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, whose grandparents and parents lived with Communist and post-communist taboos on Jewish identity in Poland, she is grasping Jewish life with both hands, dancing and creating beautiful Jewish-themed art, at one of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) family retreats this summer. More than 60 JDC-sponsored retreats throughout Europe and the former Soviet Union are providing summer excursions focused on Jewish learning and outdoor adventures.

“By tapping into the unquenchable thirst for Jewish knowledge and celebration in parts of the world where Jewish life was almost lost to the horrors of Nazism and to Communism, we are contributing to a new generation of Jewish leaders. Our summer retreats provide life-changing opportunities for children and their families to reconnect with their Jewish culture and identity,” said JDC CEO Steven Schwager.

At JDC summer retreats, programs for toddlers to teenagers and their families combine Jewish education with art, drama, English language studies, computers, sports, dancing and music. Children from the full spectrum of Jewish affiliation, from large cities and remote villages, experience a renewed commitment to their Jewish heritage.

JDC summer programs are based in Europe in Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and the Balkans. Across the former Soviet Union, retreats take place in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Among retreats in the former Soviet Union, JDC’s partnership with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, led by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, ensures that children, youth, and families at risk or those who are economically disadvantaged receive a Jewish summer experience. The IFCJJDC Partnership for Children in the FSU is responsible for year-round welfare and relief programs for more than 27,000 Jewish children at risk in the region.