Camp aids children’s move to Americaan

Many Southern California churches and synagogues are sponsoring day camps for children and young people this summer, but Chabad House, the Lubavitch Jewish organization, is the only one offering a day camp where both the kids and the counselors are Russian Jews.

The eight-week, five-day-a-week program for about 100 youngsters between the ages of 4 and 13 provides a unique setting for Jewish studies and experiences for Russian-born children only recently immigrated to the United States.

"Our goal is to help newly arrived Russian families acclimate to life as Jews in America," explained Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, West Coast director of Chabad. "For many of the kids, it's their first taste of Judaism."

On a recent Friday, the girls at the camp were making challa— special Sabbath bread—which was to be rushed by their counselors from Marine Park in Santa Monica to ovens at Chabad House, 741 Gayley Ave., Westwood. The baked loaves were to be returned to the children in time for them to take the bread home for the Sabbath meal that evening.

The boys' group (sexes are kept separate) had made Tzitzit—long strings tied in knots—which were fastened to their trousers at the waist. Tzitzit are "biblical reminders" of the 613 commandments to the Jewish people from the Mosaic law, according to Rabbi Noftoli Estulin, head of Chabad's Russian immigrant program.

Cunin said in previous years efforts had been made to integrate Russian youngsters into Chabad's day camp program for American and Israeli born Jews. "But it didn't work," he added. "We can only relate to Russian kids with Russian counselors."

Most of the eight counselors in the Russian camp are themselves recent immigrants from Russia, via Israel. All speak Russian, the primary language used at the camp. Hebrew and some English are also used.

As two visitors arrived, a cluster of girls in the park was led by Marsha Levine, 21, the girls' head counselor, in singing in Hebrew the traditional welcoming song, "Havainu Shalom Aleichem."

Chabad Lubavitch, with about 40 outreach centers on or near university and college campuses around the country, is devoted to deepening and refining the spiritual life of Jews, particularly those identifying with the Hasidic expression of Orthodox Judaism.

"The major spiritual effort toward Russian Jews is done only by the Lubavitcher Chabad movement," Cunin said.

But camp life for the Russian youngsters isn't all prayers, Torah memorization and seriousness. Field trips have included Knott's Berry Farm, Disneyland, Marineland, Magic Mountain, bike riding, ice and roller skating, paddle boating and a visit to the zoo.

(Source: written by Russell Chandler, Times Religion Writer, Los Angeles Times 1979)


A Russian immigrant learns the Hebrew Aleph-Bet with his daughter in the Chabad Russian center