During the last three weeks, I have been fortunate enough to not only witness the magic that is Camp Szarvas, but to also become fully integrated by participating in all the camp has to offer.
Throughout my time at camp, I began to understand the reasoning behind the influential power and values that this camp instills in its participants. As an American Jew that has also lived in Israel, I spent the years of my youth feeling connected to Judaism and Israel due to my surrounding environments, including my friends, family, and societies that supported my beliefs.
As many of the European Jewish youth are growing up in post-communist societies, they are apprehensive in creating strong connections to their Judaism within their own countries. Camp Szarvas provides a place for these participants from a variety of countries to learn more about Jewish values, build personal relationships with others, and to have fun with those that share many similarities as well as interesting differences.
Discussing the impact of Camp Szarvas on the Jewish identity of madrichim, unit heads, and camp leaders led to a unanimous and rather impressive cohesive thought: that Camp Szarvas is a pluralistic community, a safe place that has largely influenced the Jewish identity of its participants.
Many of the campers have either traced their roots to Jewish family members with the help of Camp Szarvas, have become involved with Judaism solely through their exposure at camp, or have gained strength to become more comfortable with their Judaism in their own country due to the pluralistic, accepting nature of the camp and its leaders.
Camp Szarvas has lit a fire under much of the youth to become more involved with not only the camp year after year, but their own communities through youth movements, JCC involvement, and attending synagogue. This camp, as well as my placement in Eastern Europe, opened my eyes to Jews that live in a much different world due to societal norms.
It’s easy to see that Camp Szarvas is imperative to restoring Jewish life in the next generation.
Learn more about the Ralph I. Goldman Fellowship here.
Read more posts from Shaun's year of service here.
My first stop in Poland was Kraków, to attend JDC’s 7@Nite Festival. This annual event presented seven different programs (music, art, photography, multimedia) in seven unused and unique synagogues over the course of one evening. The theme of the night was Jerusalem – a city of many cultures and traditions. It started at 10pm with the celebration of Havdalah on the JCC rooftop by Rabbi Boaz from Israel and ended at 2am. I was amazed at the turnout, there must have been at least 800 participants in the overflowing yard of the JCC.
After Havdalah, we headed to the Tempel synagogue to hear a concert by Shtar – an Israeli Jewish hip hop group based in Jerusalem composed of Orthodox Jews. They rocked the house in a synagogue that was built in the 1860’s. After an hour of listening to their inspirational music we headed to the JCC for an exhibition of incredible photographs of Jerusalem prepared by the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw titled “Jerusalem – the Light from the East.”
The Kupa Synagogue which housed another exhibition was founded in 1643 by the Kazimierz Jewish district’s kehilla and was built in a baroque style with a square prayer hall inside. The interior was absolutely magnificent!
The Isaac Synagogue housed the local Chabad. Falafel was served while they played a Polish-narrated movie about Jerusalem, the Temple, and the Western Wall. The description of this stop was “Jerusalem is the center of the earth, the Temple is the center of Jerusalem.” Since we were so close to the center of the Jewish quarter of Kazimierz which is famous for the best Zapikankie in all of Kraków, we decided to enjoy the local Polish fast-food delicacy. To our surprise, everyone in line was holding a 7@nite flyer and clearly we weren’t the only ones in need of a snack as the Falafel ran out due to the sheer number of event participants.
The High Synagogue was built in the 1550’s in the Renaissance style. During the occupation of Poland in World War II, Nazis stripped the interior of all equipment. The ceiling and roof were destroyed. At present only the stone niche for the Aron Kodesh and the wall paintings uncovered early in the 21st century by art conservation remains. This synagogue had a virtual walk through the Old City, starting with a passage through the seven gates of Jerusalem. Additionally, there were photo exhibits of Jewish families that lived in Kraków from before the war.
Old Synagogue, is the oldest still standing in Poland, and one of the most precious landmarks of Jewish architecture in Europe. Until the German invasion of Poland in 1939, it was one of the most important synagogues in Kraków as well as the main religious, social, and organizational center of the Jewish community. There was a multimedia and interactive story about the real and mystical characteristics of Jerusalem. Ancient paintings, menorahs, and many more Jewish artifacts were on display.
The Popper Synagogue, built in 1620, housed a blank canvas that was beautifully painted with a colorful collage of theold city. This synagogue was one of the most splendid synagogues in Kraków. Its rich interior was destroyed by the Nazis and the synagogue ceased to function as a house of prayer.
The Remuh Synagogue, completed in 1557, was the smallest of all the historic synagogues in the Kazmierz district of Kraków. Additionally, it is currently the only active one. Since Jerusalem is the only city in the world known by more than seventy different names, they had the corresponding street names hanging from the ceiling.
It was so wonderful walking around the streets of Kraków with thousands of people celebrating the history of the Jewish people in Poland and the Jewish State of Israel. To witness such thriving Jewish life while realizing that we were less than a 2 hour drive away from Auschwitz where 1.1 million Jews were exterminated 70 years ago during WWII is nothing less than miraculous.
Three weeks ago I hit the halfway point through the Ralph I. Goldman fellowship -- it's frightening how quickly this year is flying by! Throughout the fellowship, I have lived in New York City, St. Petersburg, Russia, and Shanghai, China. I’ll be finishing my placement in Shanghai at the end of April and subsequently plan on heading to the Baltics and then Hungary until September.
When I was first awarded the RIG Fellowship, I knew I wanted to spend some of my time in China.
Although I wasn’t cognizant of the JDC's involvement in the region, I became aware of a previous RIG Fellow’s survey throughout East Asia mapping out Jewish China, which sounded both fascinating and captivating.
After becoming inspired, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to be placed in Shanghai, China for three months to assist the JDC, along with the local Jewish community of Shanghai, in putting on its largest event to date in East Asia – Destination Shanghai and Limmud China. During my first ten weeks in China, I’ve been fortunate enough to assist with the planning, programming, registration, and logistics of the event.
It’s been an absolute honor being a part of the team and helping assist in developing such a fulfilling event. Additionally, I have been privileged to travel to Hong Kong and Beijing in order to expand my knowledge about the Jewish communities of East Asia. The people I have encountered during my journey so far have shed an incredible light on life as a Jewish expat in China.
Destination Shanghai will kick off with two days of Limmud, which is a conference on the theme of Jewish learning. Limmud is not affiliated to any strand of Judaism and markets itself as open to "anyone interested in Jewish learning". The conference will be held at a hotel on the outskirts of Shanghai in a town called Qibao. One of the unique aspects of this event is that all 60+ presenters are volunteering their time to share their knowledge on a wide array of topics, ranging from the bilateral relations between Israel and modern China, the Jews of Cuba, to kick boxing lessons and Pickle making workshops. No matter who you are or where you come from, this conference definitely has something for you.
On the Friday evening following Limmud, roughly 200+ participants will be experiencing a local Shanghai Shabbat at one of the four established communities. Three of which are Chabad who were the first to come to Shanghai and set up a community center for Jewish life. On Saturday, in addition to Shabbat services, there will be a text study session that will highlight contemporary issues through the lens of the weekly Torah reading. This will be followed by a guided walking tour of downtown modern Shanghai where participants will be exposed to some of the highlights of Shanghai including People’s Square and Shanghai’s Jing’an Temple.
Sunday, April 7th marks the 70th Anniversary of the Hongkou Ghetto which saved approximately 20,000 Jews who fled Eastern Europe in the 1930’s.
This day focuses on Shanghai’s Jewish past to its future through a day-long conference in the former Ohel Moshe synagogue, now a part of the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. We will encounter the present realities, challenges, and promising prospects for Jewish life in China and East Asia. As this day coincides with the Holocaust Memorial Day, the Israeli Consulate is organizing a ceremony to commemorate the day that will take place at the Ohel Rachel Synagogue, which was built in 1921.
I’m very excited that my girlfriend and I will be joining the Inside Jewish Shanghai Entwine trip which entails visiting Shanghai and Beijing. We couldn’t be more excited to meet the young professionals who will be arriving and we’ll all be experiencing Shanghai and Beijing through JDC’s amazing lens!
In the next few weeks I'll be writing up a post about my experiences in East Asia in more depth and detail what I've been so fortunate to be a part of!
As I've been posting photos to my instagram, feel free to follow me @ShaunGoldstone.
As I'm in the midst of traveling to Moscow for my next adventure, I'm leaving the coldest city I will ever visit (or so I hope)! With that said, I'd like to reflect upon my most recent visit to Syktyvkar, a city two hours northeast of St. Petersburg by plane, where the temperature dropped to a staggering low of -33.5°C!
My heart started racing as I was about to disembark the plane in Syktyvkar. I had no idea what to expect since -12°C in St. Petersburg is cold enough! My first and every breath once I left the plane felt like I was inhaling micro icicles - its difficult to describe but hopefully you get the picture -- it was FREEZING. Literally.
Upon my arrival with Lisa Dorfman, a JDC employee (and my Russian savior/translator), we drove to a wonderful lady's home two hours away by car. Raisa, an 87 year old Nazi victim who receives welfare from JDC, cooked a feast for us! Lamb stew, mushroom salad, hand picked berries from her garden, and a bunch of Russian style breads! It was by far my best meal in Russia to date.
Raisa receives JDC's welfare assistance by means of food packages and visits from a social worker who provide her support every week for about 10 hours. This is a picture of the food package which contains coffee, oil, sugar, flour, honey, Jewish magazines, and a few more items.
On the ride back to town, I fell asleep in the car and thought I'd wake up at the hotel. Little did I know I was supposed to give a presentation to the medical community and Jewish leaders of Syktyvkar!
I ended up spending two hours with this group, discussing all sorts of topics such as the medical condition in Syktyvkar, my experiences in Ethiopia, and the needs of the local community at large. This lead to a discussion with an oncologist who expressed his interest in building a hospice in the city due to the high prevalence of cancer amongst the residents.
Additionally, since 30% of the Hesed welfare clients have cancer it would be a huge benefit to the Jewish population. After hearing about my dream of building a hospital in Ethiopia, he stressed the importance of us maintaining a professional relationship in order to reach both of our goals.
Today we made two home visits, one to an Abram, who is originally from the Ukraine and is also a Nazi victim. A miner his entire life, he proudly showed off the multitude of medals he’d earned throughout his career. Our second visit was to a bed-ridden 78 year old man named Israel who goes by Anatoli. He was one of the founders in the regions’ television channel and was a prominent journalist. After spending some time with these welfare recipients my realization of why I chose to visit Russia became clear to me.
So far this journey has certainly carried me to the far corners of the earth. To places I may never have visited or even thought to visit! It is such a privilege to be involved at a time when very few holocaust survivors still live to tell their tales. To meet them not only in Israel (the land they dreamed of), but alive and being cared for by our Jewish communities worldwide.
It's absolutely incredible how wherever there is a Jew in need, the JDC is truly there. I've been hearing that for the past two years but during these past 24 hours I've witnessed it with my own two eyes.
Touchdown St. Petersburg -- my new home for the next six weeks!
It’s hard to believe that I’m finally in the field but I couldn’t be more excited to begin my journey in Russia!
I find it amazing coming from sunny southern California, the fact that St. Petersburg at this time of the year gets on average 7 hours of sunlight a day! The sun rises at 10:00am and sets at 5:00pm.
Monastery near my hotel
World Famous Mariinsky Theatre [opened in 1860]
On my first day, I was joined by Lisa Dorfman, JDC-St. Petersburg missions coordinator (and my wonderful gatekeeper to this beautiful city) who met me at my hotel to teach me how to get to the nearest subway stop.
Our first stop was the local JCC called YESOD. They had an entire day devoted to volunteerism and I was asked to speak.
I was assigned an hour-long session and was pleasantly surprised at the turnout of attendees.
I presented on JDC-Ethiopia and my personal experience working in East Africa for thirteen months. At the end of my talk there were many thought provoking questions: What has this experience done to me and for me? How has my experience affected my outlook on life? How has it affected me? What will I be doing in the future? How can they get involved?
Volunteer Fair at YESOD in St. Petersburg (42 organizations showed up, only 1 Jewish)
Entrance to YESOD
I shared my dream of building a hospital for $10 million and a woman came up at the end asking for a bank account to transfer some money to the fund. I was taken aback that my story could have such an impact.
Numerous people waited to speak with me after my session to ask if they can volunteer and how they can get involved. The crowd's reaction was very motivating; I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with more people around the world as this year progresses.
Here’s the translation thanks to another incredible JDC staffer here, Dasha!
“'At the volunteer fair there were a lot lectures and one of them was from Shaun Goldstone, from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee - the largest international Jewish humanitarian organization. He was a young man, spoke about volunteering in extreme locations such as Haiti after the earthquake and Ethiopia after suffering from famine and dealing with such poverty. Shaun graduated from university with a degree in molecular biology and helped [a doctor] treat Ethiopian children suffering from tuberculosis and other spine diseases, build water wells and schools [in the countryside] and to make life in the country better in general. These volunteer experiences changed his life extremely. Shaun says with a smile: "I have a dream to raise $10 million and build a hospital and treat children locally, at this point I'm at $10,000 but I will not give up."'
After YESOD, Lisa and I had the pleasure of visiting Tatiana Shirbakova. She’s 80 years old and lived through the holocaust. She has no living family and is all alone in a small apartment that once belonged to her grandparents but is now shared with other local Russians. Tatiana worked for the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences for 30 years in the department of rare books and manuscripts. Twice a month she gets picked up to attend a JDC sponsored welfare program -- she said it’s one of her favorite things she does. I plan on attending one of the sessions with her before I leave.
Our next stop was the Grand Choral Synagogue (the second largest synagogue in Europe) where we listened to Klezmer music. It was majestic!
Grand Choral Synagogue (consecrated in 1893)
Monday started out with me giving a talk to ten regional Hesed directors about my experience in Ethiopia and on the importance of volunteering. Heseds are JDC's local support centers for elderly and at-risk individuals throughout the former Soviet Union.
Lisa posed the following question to me: "In America, volunteering is as natural as breathing. How do we ‘plant’ volunteering in the places where this idea has been unknown so far or somehow marred over the course of time."
At first I was surprised at the fact that in Russia, volunteering is not part of the culture and society -- it’s a relatively new concept. After discussing this with the regional directors, I was exposed to the broader mission of how they plan to incorporate future volunteers as they can become huge assets in the field.
Additionally, I met with numerous other organizations in order to understand how the Jewish community looks in this part of the world. One organization is called Adain Lo, which was started locally. It runs a network of Jewish kindergartens, Sunday schools, summer camps and other educational, social and volunteer programs.
Last Friday, I was given the opportunity to speak at JDC’s local office about my experiences with the organization. I thoroughly enjoyed spending the day exchanging personal stories with numerous staff about Ethiopia, Haiti, New York, and of course hearing about St. Petersburg and the FSU from their points of view. It is remarkable witnessing JDC’s work here up-close and meeting the incredible people responsible for carrying out its mission. As numerous people told me before I arrived - Duby, the local country director has already been both a wonderful mentor and valuable resource and has truly taken me under his wing.
From a cultural point of view, I've already seen the opera La Traviata, gone to an art exhibition of a local Jewish painter from the 19th century, been to the astonishing Hermitage and St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and last week I booked my ticket to see Tchaikovsky's ballet called The Sleeping Beauty.
It’s such a privilege and honor to be here.
This was only my first week...I’m so thrilled and excited for what lies ahead!
A few more photos below!
The Hermitage (established in 1764) - houses the largest collection of paintings in the world!
As I’m about to embark on this journey as a Ralph I. Goldman fellow, I feel nervous yet overwhelmingly excited for the year of adventure and learning that lies ahead.
On Thursday, I depart New York City for St. Petersburg, Russia. I’m sure you’re probably thinking: “Why would anyone fly to Russia in November of all times?!” Although the temperature is almost freezing (literally), I’m looking forward to immersing myself in an authentic Russian experience!
Over the next six weeks I’ll be learning about JDC’s work in the Former Soviet Union, specifically being exposed to welfare, community development, and relief work.
At the end of December I will head to Israel for two weeks where I’ll be meeting with the legendary Ralph I. Goldman who just turned 98 years old. I look forward to gaining valuable insight into many issues facing the global Jewish world as he has been instrumental in writing our history.
In January, I’ll head to Shanghai for three months where I’ll be helping JDC organize the first Limmud conference in the city. Come May, I’ll be heading to Eastern Europe and in June will end my fellowship by conducting a study at Camp Szarvas in Hungary.
I will be seeing and learning a lot in the next nine months and throughout the entire time I look forward to sharing my experiences with you all.