Building a Jewish Future: Camp Szarvas

July 8, 2014


Wiktoria Jachym, 16, is a proud participant of many Jewish programs in her hometown of Krakow, Poland — Sunday school, community celebrations, the city’s innovative 7@Nite Festival, and more.

But the high school student’s favorite Jewish program by far is Camp Szarvas, JDC’s pioneering summer camp experience for young Jewish leaders from around the world. Operated in conjunction with the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, the camp — now celebrating its 25th summer — serves more than 1,300 children annually.

“It makes me feel like I’m part of a community,” Jachym said. “We share our problems and interests. I find a lot of common ground with the people I meet. Together, we share our different customs and create a Jewish community, including holiday celebrations.”

Each summer, children from 25 countries converge at Szarvas to explore their Jewish identity, connect with Israel, and develop the leadership skills to become key players in their home communities.

Rebecca Nikolova is from the small Bulgarian town of Kyustendil, home to some 50 Jews. When her mother died a few years ago, she and her older sister relocated to the Bulgarian capital of Sofia and began getting involved in Israeli dancing and other Jewish community programs.

After attending Camp Szarvas for the first time in summer 2013, Nikolova said she’s committed to eventually giving back to the camp as a counselor in two years, when she’s of age.

“Szarvas is a place where you can never feel lonely, lost, or like an outcast. It’s where you are welcome,” she said. “It’s a place where everyone is equal and what matters is your passion. And it’s where I discovered I have a lot of that.”

Nikolova’s goal of returning as a madrich is her fellow Bulgarian Maria Levy’s reality.

The oldest of three, the 16-year-old from Sofia has attended Jewish camps since the age of 7 and is now enrolled in Hadracha College, a JDC-supported program that works to develop young Jewish leaders through networking, lectures, seminars, and more.

This summer, Levy will work Szarvas, helping ensure that its young campers receive the same fulfilling Jewish experience that has so powerfully defined her own life.

“I love going to Szarvas because it gives me the opportunity to communicate with people from different countries,” she said. “Seeing so many devoted madrichim [counselors] from all around motivates me to give 100 percent.”

Szarvas isn’t just about the veterans, though.

There’s a lot at stake this summer for new campers, too — like 8-year-old Karoly, who lives in Budapest with his single mother.

Karoly’s already very involved in the city’s Jewish community, participating in a theater group run by Budapest’s JAFFE Jewish Family Services and attending the organization’s summer camp. His mother also volunteers, assisting at the Jewish community’s job center and at a program that lends out necessary medical equipment to Budapest Jews in need.

But Szarvas represents an exciting leap forward Jewishly for Karoly.

“I like the Jewish community,” he said. “I want to know even more about Jewish culture and traditions.”

Stay tuned this summer for updates from Szarvas on Karoly, Maria, Rebecca, Wiktoria, and other incredible campers.

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