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Kids from Ussr, Eastern Europe, Participate in Zionist Programs

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An elderly Israeli, originally from Poland, and his grandnephew, whom he had never met before, sit silently. The interpreter, whom the World Zionist Organization’s Youth and Halutz Department has provided to communicate between them, weeps instead of interpreting. The poignancy of the encounter is too much for him.

That recent scene, at the department’s campus at Kiryat Moriah in Jerusalem, aptly reflects the new realities with which this veteran department is now dealing, says the new chairman, Ze’ev (Bill) Levine.

Elected unanimously at the recent session of the Zionist General Council, Levine represents the World Confederation of General Zionists on the WZO Executive.

Levine, 55, had his first contact with Israel as a participant in a Youth and Halutz Department summer program in 1957. He is now responsible for an array of programs that are bringing 5,000 Jewish young people to Israel this summer and 9,000 in all of 1990.

Levine is gratified by those figures. They are up from last year, though not on a par with the early 1980s, when the department shepherded more than 11,000 youngsters a year on a variety of programs in Israel.

Among the groups coming this year are three from the Soviet Union, comprising a total of 135, and one from Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia, comprising 80 participants, all of them assembled with the assistance of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in those countries.

PROGRAM CALLED SHORASHIM

The Soviet groups include a party of technologically gifted children, who are spending six weeks at a program in the development town of Carmiel, run jointly by the WZO department and ORT.

Another, more general program for Soviet Jewish youth is called Shorashim (“roots”). It includes their first-ever visit to a well-stocked supermarket, Levine noted.

Finally, Kinor (“violin”), a 28-member dance and Jewish folklore group from Riga, will give several public performances during its stay in Israel.

Levine, who formerly headed the WZO’s Organization Department, says he emphasizes the Youth and Halutz Department’s links with the estimated 20,000 to 40,000 madrichim, or group leaders active among Jewish youth movements all over the world.

In an age of accelerated polarization within Jewish communities, their task is twofold, Levine said.

They must deepen the commitment of the committed, and stanch the constant hemorrhaging toward apathy and alienation, he explained.

This summer, the Youth and Halutz Department has dispatched more than 400 madrichim and counselors from Israel to help run summer camps in Jewish communities in the Diaspora, coordinated with the American Zionist Youth Foundation.

Most of these leaders are headed for the United States, where, says Levine, 90,000 Jewish kids go to more than 400 camps “of which we reach maybe 100.”

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