04 January 2016
Every year, teens from around the world, including from Hungary, Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, Russia, Israel and the US, travel to Szarvas (www.szarvas.org), a camp in Hungary, to have an incredible Jewish experience. Szarvas offers four summer sessions for teens to learn about their Jewish identities in a safe environment. The camp creates a welcoming, unique and personal experience for teens to feel connected to Judaism in ways they have not before.
Below, our Teen Engagement Fellow Alexa Herman interviews Avital, a junior at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, about her Szarvas experience.
What Jewish activities/programs are you involved in?
For the past couple of years I have been involved with NCSY as well as different Jewish programs at my school. This past summer I was a North American Fellow at Szarvas. Szarvas is a welcoming place for Jewish teens from across Eastern Europe to experience Judaism, in a way that they can’t back in their hometowns. It is an opportunity for kids to love Judaism in a cultural way; at Szarvas it’s not just about prayers or text, but loving Judaism in every way possible!
What made you decide to go to Szarvas?
Once I heard about the camp, I was intrigued. I had never been out of the country without my family before. I really wanted a different kind of summer then I’d had before.
What was something you particularly enjoyed about Szarvas?
It was a very personal experience. It was a space where no one questioned who you were, and it allowed you to create a space where you could explore yourself. I felt like a different person at camp. There wasn’t just one moment at Szarvas that was magical; it was a buildup of shared moments and experiences that led to an amazing and transformative time overall.
How was the program different from other Jewish experiences you’ve had?
For the past 7 years I had gone to Camp Moshava in Pennsylvania. It’s a B’nei Akiva camp. Szarvas was a big change from Moshava, as Moshava is a Modern Orthodox camp. I prayed 3 times a day, and there was a lot of structure when it came to Judaism. But at Szarvas there was no formal structure concerning Judaism. It was not just praying; it was the beautiful moments that led people to feel Judaism and love Judaism. But then again, I feel like everyone got different things out of the experience
How has Szarvas impacted you?
Being at Szarvas opened my eyes. I realize now that before Szarvas I was a little bit judgmental when it came to some things in Judaism, but I am okay with saying that, because being at camp showed me that Judaism really is a personal thing. Now, I am more open to asking questions and learning about other people’s beliefs. Szarvas really showed me that it is important to understand different beliefs and perspectives, and it is just as important understand and respect those beliefs. Every day I am trying to ask questions and question things. That all goes back to Szarvas.
What is something you want other Jewish teens to know?
If they want to be involved in Judaism they can. It does not have be structured. It can be anything. Even just saying the Sh’ma and doing community service can lead to something beautiful and spiritual. I really think that what you put in to something is what you take out of it. Sometimes teens think that the journey to finding a connection is hard, but there are always opportunities around us that can make the journey easier. For me, Szarvas was the place where I really took on that journey. Szarvas was the place where I embraced myself and my love for Judaism.
-By Alexa H.