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Think Global, Act Local: Families Make International Connections With Hungarian Students

Local families host Hungarian Jewish teens working at SJCC camp

As the summer begins to wind down, four Hungarian teens will soon hang up their camp counselor hats and say goodbye to their new American “families.”

For the past four years, Jewish teens from Hungary have been coming to Mercer Island to serve as counselors at the ’s Camp Kef. Local Jewish families, most with teens in the home themselves, host the teens, giving them a taste of American life.

But the goals, and results, are much broader.

Paired with local staff, the Hungarian counselors – this year Eszter Zewde, Tamas Somogyi, Daniel Markovits, and Hermina Des – gain leadership skills, improve their English and see how teens act and navigate through life in Seattle.

Each teen also brings back Judaism from the States. “I had to come 7,000 miles to get this near a Torah,” explained Hermina Des, during a sermon she gave at one recent evening, highlighting the taste of egalitarianism in American Judaism she has experienced.

At the same time, campers learn about the culture in Hungary and that Israel is not the only other country in the world with a Jewish community. “The Hungarians add a different flavor to the day,” explained SJCC’s program director Zach Duitch. “The kids love them a lot.”

Duitch has been in on the program from the ground floor. In 2007, former teacher Lenny Kashner, fresh from a summer of teaching in Budapest, Hungary, wondered aloud how to fulfill many of his Jewish students’ dreams of visiting America. Duitch offered to give the teens summer jobs, if Kashner could get them here. Since then, more than 25 Hungarians have worked at the SJCC.

For Somogyi, he is the first of his siblings to come to the United States. Facebook proved to be an easy way to stay connected to his family in Hungary, and to make almost nightly plans with the American and other Hungarian teens he has met here. Friendships he is confident will continue beyond the summer.

It’s a one-of-a-kind program. And it has built life-long international connections. But the program, funded by individual donations, is at risk of ending. “The hardest part is finding host families,” Kashner admits. 

If you would like more information, or are interested in serving as a host next summer, please contact Lenny Kashner at 206-725-3913 or lakashner@yahoo.com.

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