Meet Noa Ben-Hamu, the coordinator of Summer Camp Shlichim for The Jewish Agency. Although she’s no stranger to working with children – she did a short-term shlichut and is an expert in managing activities and finding her way into children’s hearts – this time, the activity was a bit unusual.
Today, the activity was for children ages 9-11 from the southern Israeli city of Ofakim. Along with three other former Shlichim who also now work for The Agency’s Shlichim Unit, Noa was helping provide a “day of respite” for these children at the Nachshonit amusement park, outside the line of most fire from Gaza.
Since the start of “Operation Protective Edge,” The Jewish Agency has arranged for more than 65,000 children and teens, ages 6 to 18, from southern Israel to enjoy “days of respite” in the center of the country. The trips were funded by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and Keren Hayesod.
Along with a group of American friends to The Agency, who were visiting Israel on a solidarity mission, Noa helped provide a dynamic arts-and-crafts workshop for the children called “Ofakim is my home.”
Together with the American guests, the children imagined, and then sculpted, their version of something familiar from home: a tree, or their house . . . then turned it into a rocket, a bomb shelter . . . and then into a cease-fire, or peace, “which I know they would be happy to have,” Noa said. On their own initiative, the groups of children turned their task into a contest, to see who could finish their sculptures first.
The activity culminated with each group contributing their sculptures of things familiar to them in Ofakim, to create a large model of Ofakim on the floor.
“For me,” Noa says, “the most interesting part of the game was when the facilitator asked a group of children to make a sculpture that represents ‘peace,’ just after she’d used the words ‘cease-fire.’ Two of the children in my group looked at each other and said ‘What, there isn’t going to be a war again?’”
“It really shows the reality of life in the south in the past few years, and for me, it was the most moving moment.”
As conversation turned to her work in the Shlichim Unit, it was pointed out that many Jewish Agency short-term shlichim have been serving all summer at more than 200 Jewish camps in North America, and that they are still abroad.
“Without question, this is not an easy time to be a Shaliach, away from home and away from Israel,” Noa said. “Many of them feel deeply compelled to return to Israel and serve in the IDF reserves, or simply to be part of what is happening here right now and be supportive however they can. Our message to them has been, that exactly at a time like this, their presence is needed overseas, so they can muster support from around the world. The shlichim agree, and have been doing wonderful work. We get a lot of photos from them, showing activities they are running with the campers to express support of Israel.”
Approximately 1,400 short- and long-term shlichim are serving in 60 countries, working to “bring Jews to Israel and Israel to Jews.” Since the start of “Operation Protective Edge,” they have created many projects to initiate dialogue and raise awareness about the situation in Israel. Additionally, in a campaign run in partnership with Yediot Acharonot, Ynet, and shlichim of the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency shlichim are asking Jews worldwide to post photos of themselves with an Israeli flag and a sign that says “Together we will win.”