My Journey

From The Genesis Newsletter: March 2011.

Yulia Korolitsky, RSJ Student Programming/Jewish Education, Hillel of Greater Toronto and Tel Yehudah merakezet talks about her journey of identity that began with her work as a counselor in Havurah.

Looking back on the cold winter day in 2009 when this journey began, I could have never imagined that over 2 years later I would be sitting in the office of Hillel of Greater Toronto. When I interviewed for a counselor position at Havurah – a new overnight program for Jewish teens from Russian speaking families on the grounds of Tel Yehudah in Barryville, NY – I did not expect it to be much more than a summer job. A trip to Israel sounded nice but I was unsure of whether I was ready to go back to the land I once called home. At that point speaking a sentence in Hebrew was a great challenge, and talking to someone about their Jewish identity when I was still unsure of my own seemed like a mission almost too big to handle. But being the adventurous person I am, I decided to take on the task.

After weeks of training in Toronto, I met the organizers of the camp at a Shabbaton in New York. Their initiative became clearer, but still I had doubts. Who knew that only weeks after meeting everyone for the first time I would embark on a journey of exploration both in Israel and here at home? We learned from incredible speakers, engaged in discussions about arts, politics and history and within days I found myself speaking Hebrew again.

At Camp Tel Yehudah, the Havurah program was received with open arms, and American campers who have grown up at camp were excited to meet new friends who understood and spoke Russian and some Hebrew. The campers were eager to learn from one another, and shared camp songs, traditions and dances. As a counselor, I led group activities and discussions that we as staff created earlier in the summer, modifying them as we went along to suit our campers. Many late nights of preparing materials in the camp office turned into staff bonding sessions and when we went back to our bunks to sleep there was a feeling that we were doing something right.

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