Voices from the Field
At the end of the day, you don’t know what to say.
I felt that a lot this summer, working at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. I walked around camp in the gorgeous Northwoods of Wisconsin, watching campers playing basketball and singing and trying to convince the swim staff they shouldn’t have to go into the lake because it was too cold.
And watching members of the Israeli mishlachat whispering to one another in private, crying, checking emails, ducking into the few building with computers to check the news.
What do you do when a large part of your staff is in crisis? When they are concerned about their families back home, when many of their friends are still in the army units they so recently left behind? When those friends and relatives are walking into Gaza, when they’re living in the path of missiles?
This is the reality that many camps faced this summer during Operation Protective Edge, as more than a thousand of young Israelis came to the United States and Canada. How can you at the same time care for members of your staff who are hurting, help your American staff connect with their Israeli peers, all while promoting a fun camp experience for all concerned?
It was fascinating to watch Ramah Wisconsin tackle this issue. Conversations were facilitated among the senior staff, among the American staff, among the Israeli staff. Conversations together and separate. Conversations that acted as touchstones: opportunities to take the pulse of what was going on in camp and in the world. Initiatives were created: ways for staff members to get news, ways for campers to hear what’s going on, to process what it means for friends and family, what it means for their homeland.
One of the most incredible moments in this full eight-week (nine if you count staff week!) journey occurred in the middle of the second session. The Rosh Mishlachat convened an informal panel discussion of a half-dozen Israelis late at night, after programming was done for the night. It was a standing-room-only event, people crowding into the staff lounge out of interest and out of respect for their Israeli colleagues.
I assumed I knew what they would say. I’d been following the conflict, I had friends and family who live in Israel, I’d been deluged by a more-than-steady diet of Facebook posts. I figured they’d talk about missing family, being scared, feeling far away.
And they did. But they said far more than that. They talked about worrying about grandparents in Tel Aviv who couldn’t hear the sirens, who couldn’t move anywhere in under 60 seconds. They talked about younger brothers who were autistic, who couldn’t deal with abrupt changes of routines, parents who stopped trying to move them to safety and instead figured that if the bombs came, they’d die together. They talked about how their parents laughed telling this story but it wasn’t funny to them. It made them feel useless, because there was nothing they could do. And they talked about the intense feeling of shame when friends were being injured and killed, when people who’d been in their military units were returning from their oversees post-army trips in order to sit with injured friends in the hospitals. All while they were having a lovely day off in Northern Wisconsin.
There were no questions after the panel, but there was a heavy silence in the room. And then slowly, people got up and started making their way to the Israelis on the panel, and the ones who didn’t speak.
Something broke that night, because it’s not always about knowing what to say. Sometimes it’s just about knowing when to listen.
Natalie comes to the iCenter from The PJ Library®, where she created and led the book and manuscript selection process over the last 5 years. Prior to that, Natalie was the founder of Sippurim: Israel Books for Kids, a nonprofit aimed at developing new books for American children that take place in Israel. While Natalie claims that everything she knows in life she learned as a result of reading children’s books, she does understand that there are many ways to educate and inspire connections. Natalie has a BA from McGill University in Montreal and a Journalism degree from the University of King’s College in Halifax.
When Barak ben Avinoam is about to head into battle, he offers up this bizarre ultimatum to Devorah, the prophetess and judge of the time. “Come with me to the battlefield,” he says, “or I’m not going.” It is quite literally the last thing you would expect to leave the lips of a commander, a military man. Certainly the stereotype of a fighter is someone who has full confidence in himself and his abilities as a strategist. This seems like the worst sort of strategy out there.
Yet she goes. I’ve probably read this perek dozens of times and I’ve taught it a whole bunch as well. But I don’t think I ever got it.
Here is what it takes to get it. To understand the role Devorah played, perhaps one needs to think about the rabbanim of yeshivot around the country who race down to the outskirts of Azza to sit with their students for brief moments between battles, to offer their talmidim words of Torah, words of encouragement, reassurances and love. To look at Devorah through the lens of the mothers, wives and girlfriends who find their way down to give a kiss, a hug and some tears. To understand what war is when there is a presence of wisdom and kindness. That is what Devorah was there to offer — spirituality and a connection with God at a point when people need it the most.
In Barak’s war, there were 10,000 soldiers. At last count, I think we may have over 70,000 soldiers called into the army and into battle. There are many boys that I love so so much that are in Azza. There are many mothers, wives and girlfriends that occupy my thoughts every hour of every day. There are boys who haven’t been in touch with anyone in 22 days, or who had a 2 minute chat with a parent or the newlyweds separated after two weeks to be reunited in the south for a quick hug.
At the end of the battle, Devorah writes a song and sings it. She is not the only one to do so. Miriam takes out her tambourine and dances to a song after the Jewish people leave Egypt. Naomi Shemer finished her magnum opus, Jerusalem of Gold, only after she heard soldiers singing her song at the kotel at the end of the 1967 war. There is a need for the poetry of those who experience tragedy and joy who sing of love and loss and victory and hope. I hope that our song is written soon, when the boys are home, when there is quiet in a land that is full of scars.
Reprinted with permission from http://365daysofkatzs.wordpress.com/
Devorah Levine Katz is a mother of five. She is the founding editor of www.challahcrumbs.com. These days she spends most of her time writing educational curriculum, blogging and hanging out with her kids. She loves books in all shapes and sizes. Originally form Toronto, Devorah made aliyah in 1995 and now lives in Alon Shevut. You can check her out at www.challahcrumbs.com and at https://365daysofkatzs.
Much has been written about the challenges educators face as they seek the appropriate balance in addressing the conflict between Israel and Hamas, and no two camps take the same approach.
The Israeli staff at Camp Seneca Lake (CSL) in New York State found themselves feeling very far from home as they longed for updates each day. Like hundreds of shlichim at camps across North America, the shlichim at Camp Seneca Lake all continued to fulfill their duties at camp, but they wanted to do something more.
CSL is participating in the Goodman Camping Initiative, and the impact can be seen all over camp. From Israeli candy in the canteen to rousing enthusiasm for activities that hone in on understanding issues related to Israel, the CSL community has embraced Israel in many ways.
Camp Director Aaron Cantor surveys the scene with satisfaction, saying, “I wish we had started this years ago.” So when a few shlichim came up with an idea to show the camp’s support for Israel, they immediately got a green light to proceed.
Over the course of a few days last month, shaliach Amir Ziskind led an effort to capture the feelings and thoughts of campers and staff members in a video love letter which was posted on the camp website and shared in the US and Israel via social media.
“My friends at camp know and understand what is happening in Israel right now,” Ziskind says in the video’s opening scene, “and I want to show you what they are thinking.” This is followed by clips of campers and staff expressing support for Israel, concern about its security and commitment to its well being.
“I hope the fighting ends soon and all the soldiers get home safely,” says bunk counselor Jojo Kaufman, a student at Rochester Institute of Technology. “I’m saddened that it has to be this way,” says pool director Jordan Snyder, a religious studies major at Nazareth College. “Good luck to all the Israeli soldiers, we hope you get home safely,” says Eli Schwartz, a member of CSL’s staff in training program.
The video ends with campers and shlichim expressing hope for peace in Israel.
Carl Schrag is a journalist and educator whose passion for Israel infuses everything he does. A former Editor of The Jerusalem Post, Carl currently serves as Program Director of Write On for Israel, a competitive Israel education and advocacy training program for high schools students in Chicago.