A Jewish Renaissance in Central Asia

July 9, 2013


After attending the four-day Freilehe Kindercamp and festival near the central Kazakhstan city of Karaganda, Viktoria Goldina has an important message about Jewish life in this Central Asian country of about 17 million people.

“Jewish life in Kazakhstan exists, and it is blooming and I hope it stays that way,” said Viktoria, a resident of the capital city, Astana. “I hope that this festival continues to grow, to gather people from all over the former Soviet union and who knows, maybe from all over the world.”

In its ninth year, the JDC-supported festival — held at a sanatorium near Karaganda, an industrial city of about 500,000 people — brought together nearly 200 children and their parents from 10 Kazakh cities, as well as attendees from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and Nizhni Tagil, Russia. The event helps showcase children’s talents and provide a rich community experience for families.

With a theme this year of “Jewish wisdom,” Freilehe Kinder’s initial goal was “to familiarize children with Jewish art and culture,” said Irina Kozhanovskaya, the project director.

But now the goal is much larger, she says with pride.

“Today, the festival also aims to build generations of young leaders, who will know their roots, who through arts will be able to express their point of view, who will be the foundation of their community,” she said. “I think the world needs to know that Jewish life in Kazakhstan exists, that our communities are strong.”

During the festival, children work on a host of projects, such as: Jewish bookmaking, sand art, song and dance programs, and Jewish fairytale creation.

One project even challenged participants to tell the story of the creation of the world solely though light and sand.

“My favorite part of the festival is the fact that I feel like I am a part of something bigger, like I have a huge family and we are having a reunion,” said participant Maria Ariepieva, a resident of Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty.

A participant for many years, Maria returned this year as a madrich (counselor).

“I grew up at this festival,” she said.

The festival is a beacon of hope and a symbol of the Kazakh Jewish renaissance, said Kozhanovskaya, the project director.

“I hope that our people who were deprived of their culture and traditions during Soviet times will find a way back to their roots,” she said. “I can already see this process of reviving Jewish self-identification in the younger generation.”

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