Partnership. What at first to me seemed like a cheesy title is actually the perfect word to describe my month and a half long adventure in Eretz Yisrael. As a previous Birthright participant on Shorashim, this was my second time in Israel, but it was nothing like my first. Birthright was a great "Israel 101" course where for 10 days I was the definition of a tourist. Kefiada, an English-speaking summer camp in JUF's Partnership Together region, was the next step. No longer was I simply touring the land, but for a month and a half, I was living in it, working in it, connecting with it, and for lack of a better word, forming a partnership with it.
After a long journey from Chicago to Israel, we were picked up at Ben Gurion Airport and then travelled to the office in Kiryat Gat where we were greeted by the amazing staff, pita, hummus, Bamba, and water. Life was good, and the adventure had officially begun. One by one, and also two by two, we were picked up by our host families; these were people who from the moment we were driving with them in their cars, truly became our second family. Partnership.
With no official plans for a few days before camp started, each of us had time to get to know the wonderful families we were staying with. The house I was living in was medium sized and besides the family, there was also a talking parrot named DuDu (a nickname for David in Hebrew). My host father loved birds and parrots and parakeets were his favorite. While Dudu ruled the indoors, outside, in a mini-aviary were housed over 50 parakeets. Though I thought I would never get any sleep, these birds sounded like regular birds in Chicago and slept silently once the sun had set.
As I was introduced to various members of the family (the oldest daughter, 22, followed by the oldest son, 19, then a daughter who was 18, and finally the youngest son, 13) I could not believe how lucky I was. Right when I got there one of the brothers and I went on a walk around the neighborhood and got to know each other. My host family took me everywhere. I travelled with them, shopped with them, ate with them, went fishing with them, and celebrated with them. Our bond could not have been closer and my host mom made it her duty to make sure I gained 5Kg by the end of the trip-the food in Israel never stopped. Partnership.
The camp itself was also an experience unlike any other. Teaching English to Israeli children was quite an adventure. The kids were so energetic, fun, and perhaps best of all, appreciative. Every day had a different theme. These included: Swimming, Drama, Fourth of July, and perhaps best known to American Jewish day campers-Color Wars! Using these themes, we created daily vocabulary words, art projects, outdoor activities, and indoor games and sports that would help the children use the new words in a meaningful way and remember them.
The best thing we did, however, was simply being ourselves and speaking English. Before the kids come to camp they already have a basic understanding of English and it was our job to give them the exposure of interacting with native speakers. The Israeli co-counselors we had also become our best friends. They were our support system and hung out with us every day. It was great to develop such close relationships with the entire Israeli staff and to travel with them to all our social activities whether it was to Tel Aviv, the beach, Eilat, or simply one of their houses. We could not get enough of each other and we hung out every night after camp. Every second of every day was part of the gift of this indescribable experience. Partnership.
Kefiada is an American camp superimposed on Israeli land-it was the best trip of my life. I cannot wait to go back; my second family and new friends are for a lifetime. Am yisrael chai!
Thank you JUF's Partnership Together for a gift that I will have forever-a partnership with Israel.
JUF's Partnership Together has been connecting Chicago with Kiryat Gat-Lachish-Shafir for the past 17 years. For more information on how to apply to be a Kefiada counselor, contact Brooke Mandrea at (312) 357-4737 or Partnership@juf.org.
Ari Kravetz is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is majoring in English with a minor in secondary Education and plans on teaching middle school or high school English classes. Starting in January, he will be student teaching at Glenbrook North High School.