Szarvas The Magical Place
Zsuzsa Fritz (Program Director)
The Lauder-Joint International Jewish Youth Camp was established in 1990 by the Lauder Foundation and by the American Joint in order to give a great Jewish summer experience and a long-lasting impact on the Jewish identity of the youngsters who had just started to discover their roots in the Eastern-Central – European Jewish communities.
The camp is the largest in Eastern and Central Europe, serving approximately 2,000 youth during each summer. Since the camp began, youngsters from Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, the former Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia, Germany, the U.S.A. and Israel have all come. The have expereinced the unique Jewish atmosphere of the camp, enriched their awareness of their Jewish identity, learned about one anothers’ culture and experience, and enjoyed the camp’s wide range of facilities and kosher kitchen.
Szarvas – since then – has become a key word. A slogan. A magic formula. Young Jews meeting in many parts of the world find a common language immediately by looking at each other and suddenly smiling – saying: “I met you in Szarvas!”
It has become the motivating force of Jewish community development throughout these countries. Youth counsellors who became involved and committed to Szarvas had soon become involved and committed members of their communties; young knowledgeable Jews intent to take part and develop.
The camp has now a history of 14 years, 14 rich and powerful summers, with 22 countries represented and counting, among them groups from the United States and Israel.
Each year is an exciting journey into the Jewish world, where all the activities are built in order to make the campers want to know and experience more of the Jewish experience. The summers are built around a carefully chosen main theme and the activities are all built on the basis of informal education where the campers with the help of the madrichim get into a dialogue on the chosen theme. They debate, roleplay, participate in exciting simulations all in order to make it a long-lasting experience.
There were many themes throughout the 14 summers, including: The Jewish Calendar, Heroes, The Bible, Jerusalem, Roots, In Search of the Lost Menorah, The Jewish Home, The Jewish Hall of Fame.
Campers have a very intense daily schedule built carefully to offer a variety of different activities: Israeli dancing, sports, swimming, singing, peula (an activitiy focused on the summer’s theme), madrich time (it is game and discussion time with the madrichim), arts and crafts and other specific activities, like Pardes for Golan.
The campers as well as the madrichim have access to computers and to many other resources for their personal enrichment.
One of the interesting and innovative educational spaces is the learning center which provides the campers with opportunities to learn on their own through educational games where the madrichim are only there to help them if needed.
In order to fulfill the goals of the camp, and to provide all the above, the camp offers comfortable and enjoyable facilities and conditions, there are 100 rooms with 440 beds, there is an air conditioned dining hall, a swimming pool, a sports hall which is called the „kupola”, tennis, soccer, basketball, volleyball, football and tennis courts a small playground and the “Beit-David” which is a synagogue and a multi-purpose activity center.
The multi-lingual camp is a big melting pot of different Jewish communities and cultures, where the campers and the madrichim communicate in English or Hebrew and the activities are in the language of the given group, by their own local madrichim.
For the older age groups there are several international programs organized like thhe “Café Dilemma” where the young people discuss dilemmas from Jewish life and history and have an opportunity to share their own experiences with the others in a very open and warm environment, seated around tables bathed in candlelight.
The staff is multi-cultural, including madrichim and unitheads from all the countries represented and Israeli madrichim who come and share their unique experiences with the staff and the campers. Programs are created and invented by an international educational staff.
The madrichim are trained throughout the year in their own communities, and then participate in an orientation session just before the camp starts where they receive the educational program and work on activities for the camp.
The campers are divided into groups in their age category: Negev, 7-10 year olds; Galil, 11-13 year olds; Golan, 14-16 year olds; and Hermon for the 17-18 year olds, with special programs offering more freedom and more responsibilities.
What campers say about Szarvas
“I am writing about my experiences in Szarvas and about that special feeling what I always get when I am here. I feel so cosmopolitan and I enjoy that I can use my English and have amazing conversations with interesting people from all around the world… I love the way the people love each other here…”
“[We are writing] so that we could let you know how happy we are to be here with you in Szarvas.”
“Despite the obstacles that too many of us have had to overcome such as anti-Semitism and a lack of a strong Jewish community, at camp Szarvas we are all given an equal opportunity to enjoy the amazing rewards that accompany being Jewish. Although we are all very different people, our many similarities serve to stimulate a general atmosphere of unity.”
(Danielle and Denise)