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Witnessing the Rebirth of Judaism in Ukraine

Judaism means different things to different people. It is practiced in countless ways among many types of people. While Camp Ramah Yachad is not directly affiliated with the Ramah Camping movement, I did expect the religious aspects of the camp to be similar to those at Ramah California, the Ramah camp that I come from. During tefillot on the first day, I was surprised by how different the Yachad prayers were from Ramah California’s daily Shacharit.

At first, I was angry that I wasn’t able to pray like I usually do. However, I realized that I was witnessing how Judaism translates across the globe. Even though their style of prayer is different from mine, it doesn’t make it any less meaningful than Ramah California’s Shacharit. I was witnessing the rebirth of Judaism in a country that was under Communist rule for 70 years. Instead of being angry, I started to appreciate our new Ukrainian friends’ approach to the prayers. From this specific experience, I learned that both creating your own way of prayer and accepting other people’s Jewish practices are important.

On the first Shabbat of the session, a representative from Machon Schechter in Jerusalem joined us. Instead of conducting a Torah service with three parshiot (portions), they decided to have eight parshiot. Before the service started, the rabbi at camp asked who had never seen a Torah in person before. More than half the kids raised their hands. Because there are only three or four Torah scrolls in all of Ukraine, it is rare for a child to have seen one. The fact that Judaism was banned in the Soviet Union, still has repercussions on today’s Jewish youth.

As the Conservative movement in Ukraine grows, the local Jews will gain traditions similar to the ones we have at Ramah California. Today’s Jewish youth in Ukraine will continue to learn about Judaism and their passion for our religion will only grow from here on.

Jonah Sacks, 17, is from Portland, Oregon, where he is a rising senior at Lincoln High School. Jonah has attended Camp Ramah in California for seven years and participated in Ramah Poland and Israel Seminar this summer.

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