December 25, 2007 / 16 Tevet 5768
Jewish Agency winter and summer camps in the FSU offer a transformative Jewish experience. For Kirill Demidov, what began as a first-time summer camp experience has blossomed into a leading role for fostering strong Jewish identities among Jewish youth in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Kirill Demidov, 26, was born in Yeketerinburg and like most families with Jewish roots, his family was very assimilated. Kirill's first exposure to Judaism was at the young age of nine when his uncle made aliyah during the large wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union. He remembers asking his mother, "What does it mean to be Jewish?" Her response was, "Look at me, I am Jewish." Although Kirill realized then that he too was Jewish, it wasn't until four years later, at a Jewish Agency summer camp, that he began to understand what being Jewish really meant.
At the age of 13, Kirill and his twin sister attended their first Jewish Agency summer camp. During the camp session, Kirill's counselor realized that Kirill would be turning 13 at camp and decided not to let Kirill miss out on an opportunity to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah. Kirill's counselor tutored him about this important rite of passage, including teaching him prayers and how to put on tefillin. When the big day arrived, the entire camp celebrated Kirill's Bar Mitzvah together. "At that moment, I felt the meaning of being Jewish."
Following his Bar Mitzvah experience, Kirill was motivated to become involved in as many Jewish Agency youth activities as possible. At the age of 16, he undertook new responsibilities within the Jewish community and trained to become a counselor at youth clubs and summer and winter camps.
In the winter of 2000, Kirill realized a dream and made aliyah to a Kibbutz Ulpan near Afula. In November 2001, Kirill enlisted as a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces where he proudly rose to the ranks of sergeant. After his army service, he enrolled in a BA program in political science and Jewish history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. At the same time, he also began working again as a counselor again in Jewish Agency summer camps and has served as both a counselor and facilitator for the past four summers at Jewish Agency summer camps in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Since moving to Israel, two important things have affected Kirill's feelings toward Israel, Judaism and what it means to be Jewish. One was the army and the second was his counselor training course. "Learning to become a counselor, I began to ask myself what it means to be Jewish and what one must do to feel Jewish. The answer to both of these questions is to develop Jewish community in the diaspora, to open children's eyes to the fact that they are Jewish and that they can express their identity. It could be by giving tzedakah (charity), going to synagogue on Yom Kippur or just simply surrounding themselves with Jewish friends."
Now serving on the summer camp counselor recruiting committee, Kirill understands the impact of Jewish Agency summer camps. "Over time, I was able to witness a transformation in the kids between their first year and as returning campers. At camp, we try to teach campers how to express their Jewish identity in a way that means something to them. As returning campers, they are much more connected to their identity and proud to be Jewish."
With your help, the Jewish Agency can continue to introduce hundreds of young Jews like Kirill to their Jewish heritage. To find out how you can help support Jewish Agency programs in the former Soviet Union and in Israel, click here.
For more information about Jewish Agency winter and summer camps, click here.