Baltic Summer Camps Prepare Jewish Youths for Life in Israel

By: ICEJ Staff


Over one million Russian-speaking Jews have immigrated to Israel since the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, but hundreds of thousands of Jews are still left in the former Soviet republics. This summer, as the war keeps raging in nearby Ukraine, several hundred Jewish youths are preparing for their own move to Israel by attending Aliyah summer camps being held in the Baltic states with the help of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

The series of summer camps were run by the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) with support from the ICEJ. One Aliyah camp opened in late June in Latvia with 101 Jewish participants from ages 7 to 17. Among them were 30 young Ukrainian Jews displaced from the war, with the rest coming from the Baltic states.

Another summer camp just concluded in Vilnius, Lithuania, with 141 Jewish youths participating, including 133 Ukrainian Jews. A third Aliyah youth camp was held in Latvia in August and two more in major Russian-speaking cities elsewhere. In total, over 1,000 Jewish children took part in these summer camps.

Throughout the week, the youngsters not only learned more about Israel as their future home but also reconnected to their Jewish faith, which was suppressed during Soviet times. The camps provide special Aliyah preparation seminars where trained staff and volunteers encourage and advise on various aspects of immigrating to Israel.

But these Jewish kids and teenagers were not without plenty of planned time for fun—including swimming, volleyball, and foam parties. They learned Israeli folk dances set to Middle Eastern music that echoed through the surrounding forests, producing smiles and laughter. In addition, they participated in traditional Shabbat observances on Friday evenings, like candle lighting and kiddush (a blessing said over grape juice before the meal).

At the recent Aliyah camp in the Latvian seaside resort of Saulkrasti, campers stayed in an idyllic vacation complex, and everyone quickly made new friends. Located at the edge of an impressive nature reserve, the camp offered various programs, and amid the hot summer weather, a dip in the Baltic Sea was most refreshing.

Camp counselors shared insights about Israel—the innovative Start-Up Nation and haven for the Jewish people. And as the Russia-Ukraine war was dragging on not so far away, the youngsters had time and ample reason to reflect on what a move to Israel will mean for them.

The young campers also learn about special Aliyah youth programs run by JAFI, which offer them the opportunity to complete their high school education in Israel and/or study at top universities in the country. JAFI’s investment in these SELA and NAALE programs has born great fruit, as more than 30,000 Jewish teenagers have graduated from these programs over the past 30 years. Most choose to remain in Israel for good, with parents and siblings soon following.

Currently 700 Jewish youths are expected to enter the SELA program and another 700 in NAALE over the coming year. Many decide to join at these Aliyah summer camps, proving how valuable the camps can be.

At the same time, the Christian Embassy also is sponsoring Aliyah flights from the Baltic states, and the numbers along this route are strong at 178 Jewish newcomers so far this year. This includes not only Jews from Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia but also Jews from Russia and Ukraine.

Overall, more than 86,000 Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet republics have arrived in Israel since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and the ICEJ is there sponsoring Aliyah flights along these other routes as well.

These can often seem like mere statistical numbers, but every one of them has decided to take a big step in their lives, and each one brings unique potential to the nation of Israel. Indeed, God has not lost sight of a single one. 

The Aliyah process costs around $1,000 per person which helps cover pre-Aliyah preparations, the actual flight, and integration needs. Your gift today will help change a life.