Sustaining Jewish Revival in the Former Soviet Union

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.


  1. An organization or effort that discriminates against those with the “wrong” Jewish parent should be treated as pseudo-outreach, not the real deal. They are simply cherry-picking, and should rather leave the field open to those who are prepared to do some genuine outreach that includes all the “hyphenated Jews”.

    Comment by Maskil — July 19, 2008 @ 11:29 am

  2. I must diagree with Maskil. Everything is not a judgment that someone else who is different is somehow “bad.” Nobody has the “wrong” Jewish parent. They either have a Jewish mother which makes them Jewish, or they don’t have a Jewish mother which makes them Gentile. It seems some bloggers on this site have an awfully negative view of Gentiles, unless of course they want to be recognized as Jews…then they are okay.

    Gan Israel camps have been very successful at fueling a resurgence of Judaism in the FSU among its Jewish youth. They don’t water down Judaism or bend the rules to allow in those not halachically Jewish and, as a result, kids coming out of those camps are enthusiastic about a Judaism that is vibrant, relevent and unapologetically rejects the values of the nonJewish world. Kol HaKavod to the Gan Israel Camps in the FSU! They are truly making a difference and should stick to their plan and goals.

    Comment by marc — July 24, 2008 @ 12:54 pm

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