By SARAH WEISSMAN
My first trip to Israel was in 2004 when I went on Birthright. I spent 10 amazing days traveling throughout Israel seeing all the famous sites —Masada, The Kotel, Eilat, the Dead Sea, and Tel Aviv. After that trip I wasn’t sure I would ever have the chance to go to Israel again, however now 14 years later I have just come back from my fourth trip to Israel. Each trip has been for a different reason and every time I have experienced a different side of Israel and this has strengthened the connection and love I have for Israel as a country and for the people and culture that make Israel great.
This trip was not about seeing the sites as much as it was about attending a seminar and meeting the Israeli counselors (shlichim) who are coming to work at Camp Olam at the Albany Jewish Community Center this summer. I was able to take this trip to Israel with a group of camp directors as part of the Israel Up Close program sponsored by the JCCA. This program allows camp directors who haven’t previously attended the seminar an opportunity to meet the shlichim that are slated to be at their camps, and start creating connection and dialogue before camp begins. With the Israel Up Close program, we also got to travel to Jerusalem one night and spent the last day in Tel Aviv visiting the Carmel Marketplace and taking a graffiti walking tour.
Every summer more than 2,000 Israeli shlichim head to Jewish summer camps to work as specialists and counselors — sharing their knowledge of Israel with campers and while doing so to create friendships with both campers and co- counselors. This summer, the Albany JCC summer camps are lucky to be bringing two Israelis to camp —Shir and Tal. Shir will be the dance specialist and Tal will be the nature specialist. We expect that through their specialty areas they will help infuse Israeli culture into every day camp life.
JAFI (Jewish Agency for Israel) is the organization that works with camps to find and train the shlichim and each April they host training seminars for the shlichim and camp representatives are invited to attend, and I was lucky enough to be able to attend this year’s seminar. The seminar may only be four days long but in those four days the shlichim get a chance to see what summer camp is like in America —from participating in flagpole ceremony, to learning about the craziness that is color war, to learning all the dances and songs that are expected to be hits at camp this summer! The seminar is learning experience for everyone who attends — not just the shlichim, but for me as a camp director as well. It was a great experience being able to learn right along with Shir and Tal and provide them with the specific information that will help them succeed at camp this summer.
Being at seminar allowed Shir and Tal an opportunity to ask specifics about camp, the Albany area and their host families. When they get off the plane in Albany in just less than two months, there won’t be those awkward hellos and nice to meet yous, but instead there will be hugs and smiles and excitement that that camp is just a few short days away!
Sarah Weissman is the camp director at the Albany JCC, 518-438-6651, ext. 108.