AVI CHAI’s initial exploration of Jewish life in the FSU identified Jewish overnight summer camping as a powerful mode of informal Jewish education. Visits to overnight summer camp programs suggested their potential to serve as catalysts for young Jews to become more active in, and connected to, Jewish life, as well as excellent recruitment tools for organized Jewish programs and local Jewish day schools. Away from the preoccupations of daily life, these camps, sponsored by community centers, youth organizations, and day schools throughout the FSU, provide thousands of young Jews with an immersion in Jewish study and living, reaching the unaffiliated in a way that few programs can.
At the same time, our initial visits also confirmed that there was much room for enhancement to the Jewish educational programs of these camps. Many of the counselors were poorly prepared for their roles as camp counselors and educators, a structured educational theme was lacking in most camps, and there was little focus on follow-up activity beyond the camp program. Over the course of approximately five years, AVI CHAI supported a number of different educational training seminars and initiatives – with support to the JDC, the Jewish Agency, Netzer Olami and Or Avner – to try to strengthen and enhance the Jewish knowledge and activity of FSU camp leadership. While AVI CHAI’s work in this grant area is coming to a conclusion, much work remains and we are heartened by the fact that a number of local and international donors and foundations have taken the reigns of providing support toward these initiatives.