Dreaming of travel
To be a Jewish Agency shaliach (emissary)... It’s hard to describe such an incredible experience in so few lines. The dream of going traveling after my army service was always deep inside me, but I never imagined I’d experience it in such a fascinating and meaningful way.
When I concluded my service in the Israel Defense Forces, I decided to sign up for the Summer Shlichim Program on The Jewish Agency’s website. Following lengthy tests and exercises, I was informed that I’d been accepted.
Training for shlichut
I came to understand the importance of shlichut and what it means to be a Jewish shaliach coming from Israel to a Jewish summer camp in the United States during the very first training seminar. Being Israel’s “face” is a heavy burden to carry and a particularly interesting and challenging role to play.
Ultimately, two shlichim were chosen to travel to a Solomon Schechter camp in Washington – Efrat and me. I was chosen to teach martial arts and to serve as a general counselor.
Summer arrived, and with that came the time to leave. I packed a suitcase, expecting an unforgettable experience.
Adjusting to camp life
My adjustment to the camp atmosphere went quickly, thanks to the warm reception we received from the other staff and to the green vistas that surrounded the camp on all sides. During our first week at camp, we prepared for the campers’ arrival. Over those first few days, I came to know the camp’s warmth and familial atmosphere, and I became familiar with Conservative Judaism. I didn’t know what to expect when the campers arrived but I was certainly excited.
The gates of the camp opened. The campers arrived and were divided into bunks. I shared a bunk with twelve campers and two other counselors. I was with the counselors from morning to night. It sounds challenging, but it was also deeply fulfilling serving as a sort of parental figure for the campers.
The camp came together quickly and the atmosphere was very positive. Each morning began with prayer services attended by both the campers and the counselors. Every evening there was a challenging activity for the campers. The camp lake served as a setting for recreation and swimming lessons, which were accompanied by a variety of classes, including martial arts, which I led. Every Friday, before and after Shabbat dinner, song and dance filled the dining hall. Every session there was a basketball tournament between the bunks. The camp experience was further enriched by outside performers.
Connecting and contributing
Although most Jews in Washington maintain a cultural Jewish identity, many did not feel a sense of attachment to the State of Israel or consider themselves part of a global Jewish community. I was able to contribute to their sense of connection through our activities having to do with contemporary Israeli culture and with Judaism and the history of the Land of Israel. That connection was further enhanced by smaller conversations about my life in Israel, by signs in Hebrew that I hung up in the bunk, and by a map of Israel that I hung on the door.
I felt as though I contributed something meaningful, changing the way the campers think about their attachment to Israel.
Saying lehitra'ot (adieu)
But, all good things must come to an end. After two short months, I packed up my suitcase, said goodbye to my friends and campers at the camp, and continued on to travel South America.
It was heartwarming to hear from both the campers and the other staff members how Efrat and I contributed to their experience.
I was particularly moved to learn that one of the young counselors had decided, after camp, to make Aliyah in order to join the IDF.
Thank you for a formative and unforgettable experience.