Source: eJewish Philanthropy
These young women and men shlichim attend a four-day training seminar run annually each spring in Israel by The Jewish Agency (JAFI). Nonetheless, they come to camp sight unseen, not necessarily prepared for what to expect despite emails, phone calls and facetime with their supervisors. In order to the address the discrepancy between expectation and reality of the day camp setting, JCC Association of North America established Israel Up Close in 2013. This has allowed 51 day camp directors to attend the shlichim training. Not only do they gain insight into how the shlichim are prepared, but they offer valuable resources into the discourse about day camp.
A fifth cohort recently wrapped up, in which 10 day camp directors who had not participated in the training seminar previously, were able to attend through generous grants from JCC Association of North America. The funding was made possible through the Lenny Rubin Israel Education Fund, named for a former JCC Association professional who had a tremendous passion for Israel.
Israel Up Close participants were joined by another dozen camp representatives, many Israel Up Close alumni, to represent the field of Jewish day camps, answer questions, and model camp routines and programs. This was significant, as it was only the second year that a day camp-only seminar has been held, allowing for a focused approach to how Jewish day camps function in North America. Participants share their expertise, which drills down into such topics as busing, flagpole gatherings, Maccabiah competitions, and welcoming Shabbat. And that knowledge is invaluable to the shlichim.
Bringing shlichim to North American camps is an investment that JCC camps make because they know that creating personal relationships between Jews in North America and Jews in Israel is critical. These relationships give American Jews a reason to care about Israel and what happens there – their friends and camp counselors live there. As one director put it following the program, “I am walking away from this trip with a new understanding of Israel and its people, a deeper connection to my Jewish religion and a long list of ideas for improving my camp program.”
Also notable is that JAFI has shared an unexpected result of the shlichim program – the effect it has on the Israelis who serve as shlichim. Many discover from this intimate connection to Jewish life in the diaspora that being Jewish does not require them to be ultra-religious. Through the shlichim program, campers, staff and shlichim learn from one another many things, among them just how diverse being Jewish can be.