While American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) summer activities have long combined Jewish culture and learning with camping activities, volunteer efforts to help those in need, contribute to community life, and design camping experiences are increasing throughout Europe and the former Soviet Union. This is reflective of trends here in the U.S. where the American Camp Association reports that half of American-based summer camps now offer community service activities, while also making a positive impact on the community.
“One of the most promising developments among the Jews of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union is their enthusiastic desire to give back to the neediest and build Jewish communities through volunteerism. We’re proud that our summer experiences for children, young adults, and families are harnessing that passion and integrating it in a way that strengthens Jewish identity and society overall,” said JDC CEO David Schizer.
In Odessa, Ukraine the local Hesed social welfare center’s summer project Wings of Kindness deploys more than 100 youth volunteers to assist 3,000 homebound elderly as a way to combat loneliness. The volunteers deliver groceries, engage in arts and crafts and Jewish activities, and even provide haircuts to boost the self-esteem of these needy seniors. In Kishinev, Moldova, for the second year, the volunteer camp project, Be.Do.Have: Improve Yourself, brings together 100 multigenerational volunteers to develop several projects that will help to improve their community. This summer, as part of its camp activities, volunteers will, among other activities, visit lonely, homebound seniors to help them celebrate Shabbat, volunteer with cancer-stricken children at a local hospital, and prep a Jewish school for the upcoming school year. Together with youth club participants, volunteers learn about management and project administration, Jewish traditions, how to set goals and objectives correctly, and the best tools to build community.
In Bulgaria at the JDC-supported Bereshit family summer camp bringing together 350 people, parents and children engage in service at local orphanages, a center for people with disabilities, and also clean local nature preserves and repaint park benches. Similar volunteer activities are held at Limmud Bulgaria, a pluralistic Jewish learning gathering organized by a group of volunteers. At Olameinu Mishpacha, a family summer camp in the Baltics, a team of volunteers from the Jewish communities of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania plan camping experiences for hundreds of parents and children. They create and lead sessions on Jewish education and holidays, as well as parenting best practice sessions.