Camp YEKA Girls Bring ‘Miracle of Light’ to Ukraine

From the Inbox: After the plans for a grand summer 10th summer session, seven Yeka staff members decided to make it up by traveling to celebrate Chanukah with their campers in Ukraine, and after getting back, they wrote down their experiences.

By Camp YEKA Girls

Camp Yeka Girls is driven by the Rebbe’s vision of reaching every Jewish soul, no matter how great the physical or spiritual distance may be. Over the past six years we have held summer and winter camps in Ukraine for Jewish girls living in some of the most difficult circumstances. 

The personalized love and nurturing which the girls experience in camp is something they do not receive throughout the remainder of the year. Camp immerses these girls in a Jewish environment filled with love and excitement for Torah and mitzvot.  

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, our plans for a grand 10th summer session were no longer possible and we were forced to go virtual, holding camp over zoom. Although it was the best alternative for the given situation, checking in on our campers in person remained our top priority. 

As Chanukah approached and travel restrictions in Ukraine lifted, we saw the perfect opportunity to visit our girls. With guidance from local Rabbinic and Medical authorities, seven Yeka staff members set out to celebrate Chanukah with our campers in Ukraine.

Our miracle of light became a reality as we traveled for two weeks throughout 12 different cities. We reached over 500 Jewish children through various Chanukah programs in the local Jewish day schools and orphanages. Our days were filled with events for all ages ranging from preschool to university students and everything in between. 

We were privileged to spend Shabbos Chanukah with our campers in Alumim children’s orphanage in Zhytomyr and the Shabbos after Chanukah with our campers in the Dnipro girls orphanage. Lighting the Chanukah and Shabbos candles together with these girls was surreal and uplifting.

After so many months of isolation and disconnect, the unity and love experienced over Shabbos was palpable. Our Shabbosim were filled with singing and dancing as we felt the joy of being reunited at last.  

Two specific stops on the journey stand out. As we drove down to Odessa we passed the tiny city of Pervomoisk where a young couple had recently moved on shlichus. The wife, a shlucha, aishes chayil and an example for her community, is a Camp Yeka Alumni. Although our visit was brief, we lit menorah together and were inspired by the warmth radiating from their home to the handful of Jews living there.

On the last night of Chanukah, we drove three hours from Dnipro to Zhovti-Vodi to visit our camper Vika and her brother Yasha. Inspired by the Rebbes care and concern for each individual yid, we knew that these two neshamos orphaned of their mother and living with their non-Jewish father and catholic step-mother, are as important as the large programs we held for hundreds of children in the big schools. Being together with Vika and Yasha to light the menorah and celebrate Chanukah in their home, was one of the most awesome moments of our trip and moved us as much as it did the children.  

The support and love we received from people all over the world motivated us to continue in our mission of spreading light to the far flung corners of Ukraine. We embarked on our journey fully equipped with Chanukah supplies, gifts, food, candy, winter clothing, Covid and winter necessities.

With our valued and generous donors who made this all possible, we were empowered by the Rebbe to forge on with our shlichus despite the obstacles and to be there for our campers during this challenging time.

Thank you to everyone who donated and supported this incredible, unusual and unprecedented trip.  As summer approaches we are working very hard to open the doors for a safe, yet in-person summer camp experience as we promised our campers.

Applications for staff are open (email [email protected] for a form) and Bezras Hashem with the Rebbes brochas we will once again be able to be with our girls, to inspire and be inspired.   

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