Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Thousands of Miles Away, Yet Close to Home: Israeli Camp Counselors Spend Summer in San Diego

This past summer, two San Diego Jewish camps, Camp Simcha and Camp Amei Israel, invited nine Israelis from Sha’ar HaNegev to work as day camp counselors. The counselors ranged from 17 to 19 years old. They kept detailed journals describing their experiences, what they learned working with children, and what they learned about themselves while away from home during a time of conflict. The eye-opening reflections that were shared with Federation offer a unique perspective on a day in the life of a young Israeli.

Each counselor expressed love for their roles, the young campers, and time spent in San Diego. On the other hand, they expressed anxiety over missing home and their families, especially during the turbulent time in Israel. During staff trainings, both American and Israeli counselors would get together on a regular basis to discuss current news in Israel and to share their feelings. These peer-to-peer sessions allowed the visiting Israeli counselors to openly express their perspectives on life, war, and peace.

“I am grateful for the opportunity that I have to live in the region that I do, despite all the complexity and difficulties,” said Sahar, an Israeli Counselor from Sha’ar HaNegev. “We live in a reality where, from time to time, a missile explodes in our backyard. On one hand, it’s frightening and there’s no end to it, but on the hand, we’re already used to it.”

As the summer session continued and war raged on, the bravery and optimism of the Israeli counselors was the glue that held the positive camp atmosphere together. During the middle of the day at camp, the counselors received word that the bodies of the missing Israeli boys had been found. Although stricken with grief, they made a collective decision not to inform the campers until the end of the day in an effort to maintain a positive atmosphere.

As camp came to a close, the group took a trip to Disneyland, the happiest place on earth. As the joyful day ended, one counselor pointed out that in another 48 hours the group of Israeli’s would no longer be running around feeling carefree, but rather, running to shelters back home. In an end of camp wrap-up meeting, the Israelis addressed the group and emphasized the importance of staying positive and believing that peace is possible.

Upon their arrival back in Israel, the counselors were asked what they each learned from their experience, and all nine of them agreed that they traveled to the U.S. to find answers about Israel. Sometimes traveling far from home can make one feel closer to home than ever.


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