I was living in Baltimore and working for the Jewish community there when I first learned about Camp Szarvas, also known as JDC-Lauder International Jewish Summer Camp in Hungary. During a federation mission to Odesa in 2018, it seemed that everyone I met had a transformative summer experience at Szarvas, founded in 1990 and one of the largest Jewish youth camps in the world, hosting upwards of 1,300 participants from more than 20 countries each year. I knew I wanted to visit one day.
Last week, I had the privilege of seeing it for the first time with CJP board member Dena Rashes and several other lay leaders from Massachusetts and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). I was amazed at what I saw: Szarvas had been transformed into a place of rejuvenation for Ukrainian Jews who have been experiencing the horrors of war for over a year.
CJP’s relationship with Ukraine stretches back over decades. We’ve raised more than $4 million over the past 13 months to support agencies on the ground assisting those affected by war, including the JDC, which recently recognized CJP with an induction into the prestigious Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Society for our philanthropic efforts. I was honored to be invited to spend three days with them visiting Camp Szarvas.
They are being treated to delicious kosher food and a range of activities, including dance, yoga, movies, music, Jewish educational and cultural activities, and psychological support. They also have weekly Shabbat experiences and excursions to a zoo, arboretum, and cities like Budapest. These efforts are being supported by the wonderful European and Former Soviet Union professionals, as well as volunteers from the Hungarian Jewish community.
Our group had the privilege of meeting two Ukrainian families that came to participate in Mriya. It was an eye-opening experience, as it offered an opportunity to learn about their experiences, struggles, and hopes for the future. Although both families have been through so much over the past 13 months, and have experienced violence, displacement, and loss of property and loved ones, they were so appreciative of the staff, the experience, and the support of the Jewish community. I could not be prouder that Szarvas—a transformative incubator of Jewish identity, leadership, and community life for the last 30 years—is now providing a refuge for Ukrainian Jews who have faced unimaginable circumstances.
Let’s be clear: Camp Szarvas is not a vacation for these families, but an opportunity for them to catch their breath and regroup as the conflict rages on. CJP will continue to support our friends, colleagues, and our extended Jewish community in both times of peace and war.