My GUCI Magic Experience
by Rita Fruman
Coordinator, Netzer FSU
A few days ago I returned from a trip to the U.S., where I was fortunate enough to visit a Jewish youth camp URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI).
This trip was another step in the development of professional and friendly ties between Netzer the youth department of WUPJ in the FSU and the GUCI Jewish summer camp.
In February of this year, the GUCI camp director Rabbi Ron Klotz and his assistant Max Klaben were invited to take part in a regional seminar for Netzer leadership in Moscow.
The seminar demonstrated that despite the vast distance between our countries, we have something very big in common: engaging in informal education among Jewish youth.
At the end of the seminar, participants and organizers stated that these strong and valuable relationships born during the preparation and holding of the seminar should continue and go to the next level.
This is what happened. Emma Burdetskaya, a Netzer Madricha in Moscow and I were invited to participate in the GUCI summer camp, learn about the system of training young leaders, observe the writing and implementation of the camp program and, of course, exchange professional experience.
It is difficult to describe the number of emotions, feelings and sensations I experienced during my stay at the camp. For me, this visit was a unique professional experience, both in understanding the informal education process in the U.S., and in understanding the work that we do with Netzer youth in the FSU.
Being at a Jewish camp in the U.S. like GUCI, I realized that it is impossible to compare our camps and styles. Each is a special educational and creative process created by different people, in different countries with different needs.
What is important is that we are engaged in meaningful work to achieve our common goal of enabling the younger generation in the Diaspora to strengthen the relationship with the Jewish People, Israel, history, tradition, culture, education and Jewish identity.
During these two weeks some very important issues were discussed:
- What does it mean to be Jewish in present day life?
- What characterizes a Jewish community?
- Why is it so important to preserve and pass on Jewish culture and tradition?
I learned a lot of interesting and useful information on methods and approaches to informal education and staff work, participated in all sessions and workshops that were held during the week-long training workshop in the camp, and felt a part of GUCI staff.
Staff who work in this camp as madrichim always know how to speak to participants about any camp topic in a creative, warm, lively and interesting manner. They know how to peak children’s interest, give them an opportunity to express their opinion and make the right choice. GUCI has an atmosphere of friendship, understanding and Jewish identity.
One of the sessions that had an impact on me was for groups of young counselors working in that capacity for the first time, know as Machon. Ron said to be a good madrich means to be a good person. It involves the ability to listen and hear, be sensitive and attentive to others, help one another and not be afraid to open yourself something new, while interacting with the children in the camp. To hear these words at GUCI was wonderful as this is the exact message we try to convey to our young madrichim in the FSU.
Friendly and harmonious work and mutual support and professionalism, in my opinion, are strong foundations for creating a special atmosphere that prevails in the camp. Rabbi Ron Klotz is aware of this and in one week he managed to create a warm, family-like atmosphere between madrichim, invited experts and program managers.
The first Kabbalat Shabbat at camp was for staff. The ceremony began with a festive procession around the camp. During this procession the camp leadership traditionally collects all participants for prayer, passing from house to house, or as they are referred to at the camp cabin to cabin. Hearing the festive sound of the shofar, guitars and voices of participants, welcoming the Sabbath Bride through the whole camp to the synagogue hall, holding hands, I felt a kind of unity with nature, a feeling that we are all one unit part of something bigger and more meaningful in the Jewish world.
Many participants said that GUCI is a magic place that gives each person the opportunity to find themselves.
At GUCI there is a tradition at each ceremony. Between prayers, a group of volunteers read quotations about the camp written by the participants.
If I read a quote, it would sound something like this: “Camp GUCI opened before me a new world, not just the Jewish one, but also that of American culture. I have a new perspective of things that are familiar and understandable. In your world, I saw a lot of unknown and sometimes unclear, but despite this, I felt a part of this world, received a huge boost of energy and inspiration, which I will share with the youth team at Netzer camps in the FSU”.
I want to express my deep gratitude to my colleagues from the WUPJ Jerusalem office their support in organizing this project and particularly to WUPJ Director in the FSU, Alex Kagan and Debbie Pulik, Project Development, for their invaluable help in making this project a reality.
I’m very thankful to the camp management – Rabbi Ron Klotz and Max Klaben for their warm welcome of me to the GUCI family.
Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to Anne Molloy and Henry Posner for providing me with this unique opportunity to see and be part of such a large Jewish world. I know that the experience and knowledge that I gained while at GUCI will help me, to raise the activities of our movement to the next level of building a healthy, independent and democratic Jewish youth communities in the FSU.