Re-Energizing Global-Jewish Life

September 19, 2023

Young Jews from around the world come to Szarvas each summer to have fun and strengthen their Jewish identities.


From a renovated Camp Szarvas to catalyzing emerging leaders in India, in-person JDC programs are pioneering a return to form for young Jews worldwide.

Nikolett Novák waved excitedly to the buses as they pulled up to Szarvas, the JDC-Lauder international Jewish summer camp in Hungary, where she serves as educational coordinator.

She knew the 2023 summer would be special — a “return to form” after years of pandemic-driven changes and closures and a chance to welcome thousands of young Jews from dozens of countries to a newly renovated campus.

For Novák, the pandemic had a silver lining: Though Szarvas sat empty — no Kabbalat Shabbat, no Israeli dancing, no sports tournaments — she had the time to ruminate on “the most important question.”

“How can we give campers a new and improved experience while still doing what Szarvas has done best for 30-plus years: connecting kids to their Jewish roots?” she recalled brainstorming with her team. “I wouldn’t be me without Szarvas. That’s why it’s so personal for me to see this camp back in full swing, with renovated facilities that give children the kind of magical experience I once had, too.”

What made this possible was the $23 million special Szarvas campaign, which raised $14 million for renovations and bolstered the camp’s endowment to $9 million. The effort upgraded the camp’s facilities, ensuring that future generations can continue to be energized, find their own connection to Jewish life, and become the global Jewish leaders of tomorrow.

This sweeping effort affected nearly every corner of the camp — from the dining hall, where meals end with Szarvas’s signature song sessions, and which now comfortably holds the whole camp in one large room, to the cupola, which houses sports tournaments, evening activities, and prayer services, and can now better withstand the elements.

The campus was also winterized to host family retreats, young leadership conferences, and other seminars year-round. Thanks to these efforts, more than 1,000 Ukrainian Jewish participants experienced an oasis of calm and community during eight sessions of Mriya, the Szarvas winter camp that ran from January to April 2023.

Szarvas was just one among a host of JDC-supported young leadership initiatives that resumed in-person activities across Europe and Asia.

“During the pandemic, we started to see a lot of Jewish initiatives fade away,” said Lela Sadikario, director of Junction, the JDC pan-European initiative that empowers young Jews to take part in the continent’s Jewish life. “That’s why it felt so urgent to be back in person again, creating a space for young Jews to engage with each other and their communities.”


After a major renovation, Szarvas offered campers new facilities and opportunities to connect.

Each year, the initiative hosts its Junction Annual, a gathering of rising Jewish leaders from all across Europe. In Feb. 2023, the conference was held in Berlin, welcoming more than 150 people from 28 countries to learn, connect, and grow around the theme of “Diverse Identities.” 

As a Junction participant who works to create inclusive spaces for young Jews through their professional work at Moishe House, Junction participant Albert Closas Oliveras found that the physical gathering enlarged and enriched their sense of the Jewish world.

“Junction put me in conversation with the rest of European Jewry,” said Oliveras, who hails from Barcelona, Spain. “And after three years of pandemic, it felt so right to be together again. We missed it. I missed it.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Oliveras’s contemporaries in India, where the Jewish Youth Pioneers (JYP) — a JDC initiative for young Jewish professionals in Mumbai and beyond — began to return to in-person programming with leadership training and overnight seminars unthinkable during the pandemic.

During a recent retreat to Pondicherry and Chennai, some young Indian Jews experienced their first-ever Shabbat celebration — a rare opportunity to socialize with other young members of India’s statistically tiny but committed and united Jewish community.

Sharon Samuel, a JYP participant and Szarvas alumnus, who serves as the youth program manager at JDC’s Evelyn Peters Jewish Community Center (EPJCC) in Mumbai, said it’s critical that he and his peers can come together once more.

“Being Jewish in India can sometimes be a challenge — no kosher restaurants, no Jewish holidays off,” Samuel said. “But JYP is a respite, one of the only places in India where I can forge connections with people like me: I feel seen, honored, and included. It really means something when we all gather.”

For Novák, the Szarvas educational coordinator, that’s why places like the camp she loves so much exist in the first place.

“Children come here from around the world, and they speak many different languages,” she said. “But they don’t need translators: They share the experience of being Jewish.”

Learn more about Jewish India and discover why its next generation is passionate about the future.

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