A Different Kind of Camp

by R. Wineberg - MOSCOW, RUSSIA

August 5, 2002

For children who have spent so much of their young lives giving to others, it was time to get a little in return. 26 sons of Shluchim from across the former Soviet Union and surrounding regions joined together in a campsite near Moscow last month for 10 days of fun and camaraderie with children who share similar lives and experiences as they do. For most of them, it was a totally new experience.

“Children who grow up on Shlichus in these areas are very isolated,” explains Fishel Zaklos, one of three counselors flown in from New York to direct the camp, “Some of these areas are so primitive, it’s easy to feel completely cut off from the rest of the Jewish world.” In addition to being far away, the children bear the responsibility of being a role model of Jewish living--often the only ones for miles. In recognition of this, Chabad of the former Soviet Union, in conjunction with the staff at the Shluchim Office in New York, veterans of several similar style camps in the U.S., set out to give these children a summer experience that would let them relax and just have a good time. “We wanted to capture the spirit and energy of a Chabad camp in the U.S. for these kids all the way out here,” says counselor Meir Kessler. Not an easy task, considering the small size of the group. But the three counselors poured heart and soul into the kids and their efforts paid off. The spirited singing and cheering had everyone joining in, and didn’t let up at all over the ten days.

Now in its second year, the camp is situated on a beautiful, state-of-the-art campsite, complete with swimming pools, horses and riding trails, and large playing fields and courts. Like any other camp, the days were packed with sports, learning classes and trips to amusement parks, bowling alleys, and even the newest Kosher attraction in Russia: a pizza shop located in the new Chabad Jewish Community Center in Moscow. A highlight of camp was a trip to the city of Lubavitch on the day of the Rebbe’s passing, the third of Tamuz. For children so devoted to the Rebbe’s work, a trip to the “hometown” of Chabad Chasidim has added meaning.

“The best part of camp for me was being just like everyone else,” says Sholom Pewsner, age 10, of S. Petersburg, where his parents serve as directors of Chabad, and his father Chief Rabbi of the city. While this may be a novelty in S. Petersburg, it was hardly one in camp, where all the kids were sons of Chabad shluchim and Rabbis. “They are very aware of their role,” says Zaklos, “and take a great deal of pride in it, but they’re still kids and it’s quite a responsibility they carry.”

The small size of the camp allowed the counselors to give individual attention to every camper, and form close relationships with them that continue even after camp.

A unique camaraderie developed between the campers themselves, and continues even now. “I made so many new friends,” says Moshe Gurevitch, 12, from Lyons, France. Speaking mostly French, Gurevitch had no problem communicating with his peers. A shared lifestyle and purpose, and just a few words of Hebrew, can sometimes form an incredibly strong connection.

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