Home News Canada Winnipeg area’s ‘BB Camp’ creates program for Russian immigrants

Winnipeg area’s ‘BB Camp’ creates program for Russian immigrants

B'nai Brith Camp, known as 'BB Camp,' is located on the Lake of the Woods, near Kenora, Ont.

Winnipeg-area camp is reaching out to new immigrants with a family weekend for Russian-speaking families.

On the weekend of June 23-25, B’nai Brith Camp – popularly known as BB Camp – is launching Camp Gesher, a family weekend program specifically for Russian-speaking immigrants from Israel.

“So far, the response has been very positive,” reports Brenda Tessler-Donen, who’s been the camp’s executive director for the past 26 years. “We are expecting as many as 60 people.”

It is estimated that over the past 10 years, more than 4,000 Israelis have immigrated to Winnipeg and the surrounding area. Tessler-Donen notes that there are Israelis living in several communities in southern and western Manitoba. Most are originally from the former Soviet Union.

“Normally, for our annual open house, we attract 40 to 60 people, mostly new Canadians,” Tessler-Donen says. “Last year, we had over 200 for the open house, roughly 80 per cent of whom were new Canadians.”


She notes that it was word of mouth that drew so many to the open house last year. “We found that most of them had never heard of B’nai Brith Camp, or Camp Massad (the Winnipeg Jewish community’s other overnight summer camp) before,” Tessler-Donen says. “There was an obvious desire on their part to connect with the Jewish community.”

Tessler-Donen says that she and her staff did a lot of networking over the fall and winter with other Jewish summer camps in North America, to learn how they were accommodating new immigrants.

“We felt that the newcomers would feel more comfortable coming to a weekend family camping experience, if they were among their own,” she points out.

BB Camp staff promoted the camp through flyers in Russian and English, and through Facebook.

The weekend’s activities will be led by Russian- and Hebrew-speaking staff and include a Shabbat program, as well as the traditional canoeing, swimming and sporting events.

Tessler-Donen reports that the enrollment at BB Camp for this summer stands at 350, up to three dozen of whom are Russian-Israeli immigrant children.

In other BB Camp news, Tessler-Donen reports that the camp has received pledges to date of $3.6 million, toward an $8-million fundraising campaign, the largest such endeavour in the popular camp’s 62-year history, which was launched last fall.

The camp is located on the Lake of the Woods, near Kenora, Ont. BB Camp occupies – and owns – 30 acres on the island it’s situated on, with the other 170 acres belonging to the province of Ontario and designated as parkland.

Tessler-Donen reports that about $4.5 million of the funds raised will go toward upgrading existing infrastructure and erecting new buildings. Another $730,000 is intended to retire the camp’s mortgage. The remainder of the funds will be deposited into BB Camp’s trust fund, which currently stands at about $300,000.

“We are reaching out to camp alumni across Canada and the United States,” she says. “We have received from donors who were campers 30 and 40 years ago.”

The proposed changes include a new, two-storey lodge for day camp families (a BB program for children from Kenora and local cottagers), an extension of the dining hall and more cabins and communal bathrooms.

“We have already begun renovating some of our existing buildings and building the new structures,” Tessler-Donen says.