In this post, I would like to talk to you about an experience I’m sure most of you know well- Jewish summer camp. But since you know it so well- I would like to tell you about this experience from an Israeli delegate side. Last summer I had the honor to be a part of an Israeli delegation sent by the Jewish agency to Camp Coleman in Cleveland, GA. It took six months from the day I sent my application forms to the day I boarded the plane. In those six months there were eight hours of examination on my work within a group and by myself; an interview in English with the camp director; a five day preparation seminar; an endless line to get my visa; three days of packing, and more. Being so busy preparing really got my mind off the excitement. It was only when the camp driver, Jon, picked us up from the airport in Atlanta, when the butterflies snuck into my stomach. The very detailed preparation was so we will know exactly what to expect. Luckily, my summer was full of good surprises.
When we, Israelis, go abroad, we take great effort in hiding both our Israeli and Jewish identities. In fear of having an unfortunate incident with an anti-Semitic violent group, or Israel haters, we avoid speaking in Hebrew out loud, and don’t wear any clothes that have Hebrew letters on them. When we are outside of our Israel safe-zone, we have to hide who we are. I don’t like doing it, but it is necessary and I already got used to it.
Camp was the very first time I was proud of being an Israeli outside of Israel. My friends and I felt like we were heroes. Instead of protesting against the IDF, both the campers and the counselors saw us, Israelis, as brave warriors, even if we sat behind a desk for our service time. I could wear my Hebrew T-shirts proudly, and by the time camp ended, I gave two of them to my best American camp friends, who still hold on to them proudly. At nighttime, before my eight year old campers went to sleep, I would tell them stories about the beautiful Israel and answer questions. I was lucky to work as a Journalism specialist, and during some of the classes, I had the campers write about what Israel is to them, and what they think Israel looks like. During days off, when we toured Georgia and came back to the real world, we had to hide our identity again, anxiously waiting for the next day when we go back to camp. For two months, the Camp Coleman Israeli delegation felt like the kings and queens of the world. I was in Heaven, surrounded by Jews who are proud of being Jews, and look up to me, simply because I am an Israeli.
Camp was the best time of my life, and a unique experience. We don’t have summer camps in Israel in that same format as you have, so it was defiantly an original experience for me. It was two months of pure fun (or: “Kef”, in Hebrew) and an everlasting smile. But it wasn’t just the living- in- a- happy- bubble- forgetting-all-my-worries experience that I will forever carry with me; Camp was also the time where I realized I have no reason to be ashamed of being a Jew and an Israeli. More than learning that lesson myself, I got to see children learning that very same lesson. I spoke with children who sometimes go through bad times, when being picked on for being Jews, or when reading the international news version of the Israeli behavior towards Palestinians. They may not be aware of it while being at camp, because they are busy having fun, but from where I was standing, I could see them bloom as Jews and as individuals. Those children were my everything and I am still in touch with some of my campers. Each and every one of them really influenced me in his/her unique way, and I hope I did the same for them. Camp teaches them, every summer, to carry their Judaism with pride, and to always remember where they came from. The Jewish Camp may seem like two months of nothing but fun, but it carries a great responsibility in making the campers love being who they are, as individuals and as a part of the Jewish community.
I’ve been to one camp, which I objectively believe is the best of them all, but I am sure all the hundreds more do the same amazing job in making the Jewish community stronger, and in tightening the Israel- US relationship. Seeing only smiles for two months, and being a part of that amazing creation which is Camp Coleman, was certainly a life changing experience for me.