The events discussed in this article happened in the summer of 2023, and were written shortly after. They are presented now as a reminder of life before the October 7 attack by Hamas, and as a hope that this reality is one to which we can soon return.
This past summer, I was a camp counselor for Kefiada, an English-language immersion summer camp in Kiryat Gat, Israel-in JUF's Partnership Together region.
At the camp, Chicago-area college students and Israeli high schoolers work together to help strengthen the English-speaking skills of 4th through 6th grade campers. I worked with 6th graders, and was thrilled to watch them progress from speaking very few words to having full conversations.
As counselors, we planned daily activities for campers to improve their English-speaking skills. We celebrated themed days, like circus day, U.S. day, and sports day-and a culminating talent show.
We educated each other, and while the language barrier wasn't always easy, it was amazing to learn Hebrew; while campers improved their English. I will never forget when one of my campers talked to me in English during the bus ride back from a field trip. The next day, she told me how much she enjoyed speaking with me because she really liked English, and she felt like it helped her skills grow.
As counselors, we formed close bonds from the beginning. Before camp began, we spent three days together at the Dead Sea. Through Kefiada, we also went to Be'er Sheva, visited a moshav, had a woodworking workshop, enjoyed a shakshuka night, and more. We all grew close, and took trips outside of camp together to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I learned about my Israeli peers, made many new friends, and gained a deeper understanding of Israeli culture.
I especially cherished living with a host family. My host parents, olim from Ethiopia, and their four kids were so welcoming to Naomi-my fellow counselor-and me. They showed us around Kiryat Gat, took us on excursions, and introduced us to family and friends. They taught us so much about Israeli and Ethiopian culture.
Their kids became my siblings, and I will cherish my time with them forever. Through this experience, I was able to see what it was like to live with an Israeli family, and immerse myself in the culture.
I made lifelong memories and friendships through Kefiada, and when I go back to Israel, Kiryat Gat will be my first stop.
To learn more about being a Kefiada counselor, visit
Jacqueline Forman, of Northbrook, is currently a senior at Michigan State University. Kefiada was her third visit to Israel, but it won't be her last.