Any news of a Jewish community undergoing a rebirth is good news. That is what’s going on right now in the Former Soviet Union (FSU). According to a piece in the Jerusalem Post, Jewish youth camps have helped spur a revival of Jewish life in the FSU, hosting thousands of kids.
“The goal of the camp is that children who are year around not exposed to anything Jewish can come and enjoy 24 hours surrounded by Jewish tradition, history and fun,” explained Rivka Klein, director of Gan Israel camps in Moscow.
But there is another goal stated later in the article. According to David Mondshine, general director of the Or Avner Foundation, a fund for Jewish education in the FSU, the purpose of the camps - whose development in general we can applaud - is to “fight assimilation and intermarriage.”
Efforts to support and educate not just children but their families is vitally important in areas like the FSU, where for so many years practicing Judaism was an impossibility. But putting so much focus on fighting assimilation and intermarriage, as well as only identifying as Jewish those of matrilineal descent, might end up being a barrier to the long term goal of growing the Jewish community. It’s well known that intermarriage rates are sky high in the FSU, but perhaps these camps can learn the same lesson that the American Jewish community is just beginning to learn - fighting intermarriage is a losing battle.
At JOI, we think a better and more sustainable approach is to try and engage these families, draw them in and show them the value of raising Jewish families. While it’s great to see so much enthusiasm in the nascent Jewish community of the FSU, we hope they will make sure to keep their tent open to all those who seek them out.
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