Israel & Overseas
Skip Navigation LinksHome > Israel & Overseas > JDC Program Spotlight: Building Jewish Communities

Family by Family: Program Spotlight Summer 2010

“Now when we say we are a Jewish family, we really know what that means.”

 So wrote Svetlana after she, her husband, and their young son and daughter took part in a 10-day family retreat organized by JDC and the Jewish Community Center (JCC) it supports in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. Having found their way back to Judaism only recently through their children’s involvement in JCC programs, the Tabachnik family considered the summer retreat a life-changing experience.

Tens of thousands of Jews across the former Soviet Union (FSU) and in Central and Eastern Europe would agree. Over the past decade and a half, JDC family retreats, seminars, and weekend Shabbatonim have enriched their lives and given new meaning to their identity as Jews.

Specifically in post-Communist countries where community connections have been tenuous and scarce for so long, these JDC programs are critical to strengthen the bonds within and between Jewish families—the building blocks of community—and create a social network that serves as a vital foundation for self-sustaining Jewish life.

Family-based programs have also proven successful in attracting a key demographic: unaffiliated young and middle-aged Jews—like the Tabachniks—whose first foray into Judaism happens through their children. For most participants, these intergenerational retreats are also their first hands-on experience with Jewish culture and traditions kept by Jews the world over.

“I love learning new things about Judaism,” wrote Alexander, a recent thirty-something participant in a Moscow family retreat. “Retreat staff … must reach out to people who know nothing about Jewish life. And they do a great job, making Judaism seem interesting, accessible, and even fun!”

In this inviting and respectful atmosphere, parents bond with other parents and their children develop new friendships—connections that motivate members of both generations to become more involved in their Jewish communities when they return home. JDC maintains the momentum created by these Jewish retreats and seminars by offering year-round programs including family clubs and adult activities linked to children’s events at the local JCC, as well as family learning opportunities and weekend Shabbatonim.

 In the winter in Poland, where there are young parents struggling to grasp a Jewish identity that may have been revealed to them only recently, JDC’s young family seminars have been bringing them face to face with their heritage. Spending time with active Jewish families in a welcoming, joyful Jewish environment is an eye-opening experience for these young adults, who often are seeking to give a new orientation to their lives.

At his son’s bar mitzvah celebration, a recent seminar participant explained that “above all, what makes me Jewish is that my children are. Born in times when being Jewish was life threatening and not self-evident, I am glad to stand here before you today and proudly say, ‘I am Jewish for my son is bar mitzvah!’”

JDC-sponsored Jewish family retreats are being held this summer in the Baltic countries, Hungary, Poland, Romania, the former Yugoslavia, and across the former Soviet Union.

The Family Way: While most families cover at least a portion of their program costs, JDC is seeking to provide additional subsidies to impoverished, previously unaffiliated families, so that they can participate in this enriching Jewish experience.
Jewish family programs in Romania bring multiple generations closer to each other and to their local Jewish community. (Courtesy: JDC)
Young camp participants in Belarus explore Jewish culture through traditional music and Israeli dance. (Courtesy: JDC)
At family retreats throughout Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, parents experience Jewish culture alongside their children, often for the first time. (Courtesy: JDC)
Arts and crafts projects, sports and recreation activities, and Shabbat celebrations give children and adults the opportunity to interact with other families in a Jewish context. (Courtesy: JDC)