are plenty of good reasons to send your child to a Jewish overnight camp during
the summer: he or she will potentially make new Jewish friends, have positive
new Jewish experiences, and maybe even begin identifying his or her own personal
Jewish values. But there’s another reason, and it travels 14-plus hours and
more than halfway across the world to be with your camper.
over the country, and in most of the Jewish overnight camps serving
Chicago-area families, Israeli shlichim
(emissaries) play an integral role in bringing Israel into the camp
environment. These young Israeli men and women are recruited near the end of
their time in the Israeli army by the Jewish Agency for Israel to work alongside
the other staff as bunk counselors or specialists (e.g. lifeguard, arts
specialist, Hebrew educator, etc.).
many campers, shlichim are their
first tangible connection to Israel.
Israelis as part of the camp environment is the best thing you can do for
Israel education at camp,” said Adam Stewart, director of the Goodman Camping
Initiative, a joint program of the Foundation for Jewish Camp and the iCenter.
The Goodman Initiative works with camps, (including nearby B’nai Brith Beber
Camp and Camp Henry Horner) on building Israel into their camp experience.
Shlichim at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin this summer.
Shlichim have been a
staple of many Jewish camps for many years, but integrating Israel education in
an effective and successful way has long been the goal and the challenge.
Stewart and the Goodman Initiative work with camps on making Israel education a
natural part of camping and a collaborative effort between American staff and shlichim.
initiative] makes use of shlichim as
the tremendous resource they are as educators about Israel, but also takes the
project of Israel education and makes it a communal responsibility rather than
just on the shoulders of Israeli staff,” Stewart said.
camps choose to implement Israel education during the summer varies. Israeli
culture, geography, history, food, current events, and conversational Hebrew
are all components that may be emphasized to varying degrees and done so
through a variety of both daily programs and special camp events.
adopt an approach to Israel education borrowed from Israeli agriculture: a drip
of Hebrew language, Israeli culture, and connection to Israel throughout every
day,” said Jacob Cytryn, director of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.
Camp Ramah and Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI), Hebrew language is
engrained in the camp culture through the use of Hebrew words in place of
English ones for the names of activities, programs, and all the places in camp.
OSRUI also offers a seven-week Hebrew immersion unit called Chalutzim in which
counselors, most of which are shlichim,
speak to campers only in Hebrew throughout the entirety of each day.
said that Israel education is most powerful when Israel is embedded into the
camp setting and feels woven into the fabric of camp.
about seeing Israel all over the place as part of the daily schedule,” said
Kobi Swissa, Media and Performing Arts Director and the senior-most shaliach at JCC Camp Chi.
shlichim at Chi this summer have covered
camp bathrooms with interesting facts about Israel such as technology, and each
day they ride around in an Israel-decorated golf cart asking campers questions
about Israel and handing out prizes, an activity modeled after the Discovery TV
show Cash Cab. Swissa said that for
the first time ever, this summer he heard a camper say that Israeli culture was
“Shlichim help infiltrate a positive vibe
about Israel throughout all of camp,” said Camp Chi Associate Director Brad
Finkel. “Their stories and life experience help campers relate to what life in
Israel is like.”
said the ultimate goal is for campers to find a connection to Israel and find
the passion and drive to want to travel and have a firsthand Israel experience.
Aside from fun
Israel-themed programs, sharing videos and other media, and teaching campers how
to make hummus and pita, shlichim help
campers find that connection to Israel through the one-on-one connections they
make with them. Stewart says empowering Israelis to share their personal
stories and recognize that those narratives are their most effective teaching
tool is the key, and the Israelis who have been shlichim for multiple years agree.
moments when [an Israeli] comes to the cabin and talks about his personal
life—those are the things that campers actually come back home and remember,”
said Avi Faine, Rosh Mishlachat (head
of shlichim) at OSRUI in his third
summer as a shaliach. “When people
talk to them about Israel, they have a face to remember, they know someone from
Israel. That’s the strongest foundation we can build when we come here.”