On Tu B’Av, Celebrating Love in the Baltics

Two young Jewish leaders in the Baltics share their love story — and how it all began at a JDC-supported summer camp.

By The JDC Team | August 9, 2022

When they first met at a JDC-supported Jewish summer camp in the Baltics, Sheila and Pavel (pictured above) didn't know they would one day fall in love.

Pavel Fleisher, 25, and Sheila Eizensharf, 27, have known each other since they were children attending JDC-supported Jewish summer camps in the Baltics. Now, almost three years after their wedding in Tallinn on Tu B’Av (the Jewish holiday that traditionally celebrates love), they share more about their love story and explain why a strong Jewish community is so important in their home countries of Estonia and Latvia — and across the world.

Sheila Eizensharf: I always tell people we met in the camps, and my non-Jewish friends and colleagues are like, “Huh?” I have to explain that it’s Jewish community camps — nothing crazy, just something fun we do in the summer. And then that usually leads to even more questions — “Oh, OK. It was one camp?” “No, it was many.” “And what about between the camps?” “Well, there were other events and seminars.” So, telling people about how we got together usually leads me to tell them all about Jewish community life.

Pavel Fleisher: We were probably about 9 and 11 when we first met. I knew that Sheila’s dad was a rabbi at the camp, and she probably knew that my older sister was the girl who took the photos.

SE: Back then, we weren’t friends or anything. We just knew about each other. It wasn’t until 2012, when we went to an exchange program in Poland with teens from the U.S. that things really clicked — and it’s been that way ever since. He’s so smart, and I love his sense of humor, his kindness … everything. At some point, you stop looking at a person as a dish with various ingredients; you look at the whole person and think, “OK, this is it.”

PF: She stole my words! But that often happens. We always feel the same way about things, and that’s the best, when you don’t even need words and you just know you’re on the same wavelength. I really admire her.

Pavel and Sheila stand under the chuppah on their wedding day.

SE: Our anniversary is the 16th of August, and in 2019, when we got married, that happened to be Tu B’Av. When we were discussing it with the rabbi in Tallinn, he opened the calendar and was like, “Look at this! You really need to pick this date.”

PF: We had a traditional Jewish wedding, which was pretty unique in Estonia — even in the Jewish community, it doesn’t happen that often. We made it an open ceremony, where anyone could attend, and we probably had about 300 people in the synagogue in Tallinn. It’s really funny — that week, there was a Jewish community day camp, and they invited the kids to come see our wedding for their unit on Jewish life cycle events.

SE: So many of our camp friends were there, and we were joking that we should have had the wedding during camp itself — but even still, we really felt that energy when we get married, and it really is a very special energy. We made so many of our friends at Olameinu (the JDC-supported pan-Baltics Jewish summer camp) and the local camps, and it just felt like a natural part of life — kindergarten, school, Jewish camps, university. It really shapes you, not only as a Jew but as a whole person.

PF: We’re still involved these days, even though we’re living in Riga and focused on our careers. Sheila works in IT recruiting, and I’m a software developer, but she’s part of the “Eilat” Jewish dance troupe and I volunteer at “Yahad,” the annual forum of Estonian Jewry that brings together community members from across the country.

All of these programs are so important, and I’m sure we’d have some sort of Jewish community life without JDC, but it’s hard to imagine what it’d look like, since JDC has had an impact on so many parts of our lives. It’s through JDC programs, for example, that I learned to speak English — because of volunteers coming to the Baltics and speaking with us in English as we taught them Russian or Estonian or Latvian or Lithuanian. It gave us this huge boost in our lives, where we felt supported and like we were part of something bigger than ourselves.

JDC programs gave us this huge boost in our lives, where we felt supported and a part of something bigger than ourselves.

SE: It’s hard to think of how things would be different, since I’ve always lived in a strong Jewish community — but I guess a lot of the backbone of our community life was brought here by JDC. After the Holocaust and during Soviet times, it was impossible to have a full Jewish life, but now when kids have so many possibilities and such a wide range of Jewish programs, they’re helping bring their parents back to Jewish life. It’s a really amazing thing to watch.

JDC explained to us, to our parents, how things should work, who should connect with whom, what each department or institution should do. And then at the end of the day, it’s our turn — when the community is mature enough, it’s our job to figure it out, to decide what we want to do differently, what we want to do for ourselves. You can only really do that work if you have a strong foundation, though.

PF: Plus, all that is how we met each other! I want to give a special thanks to all the people who supported the camps and other projects where we first met and got to know each other. I can’t imagine my life any other way.

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