A Powerful Israel Connection

by Bobby Harris

Last week I was in Israel attending the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Summer Staff Seminar where, together with many of the URJ Camp Directors, I met with and helped to prepare the Israeli staff who have been hired to come and work at our  URJ camps this summer.  During the seminar, we provide the Israeli staff the opportunity to participate in a camp like Shabbat service that might take place at one of our camps. I was asked to present a D’var Torah, and I chose to relate the Parsha to everything that we have done at Coleman over the past five years to advocate for the release of Gilad Shalit who was returned to his family last fall after being held for 5 years in captivity by Hamas.

Hanoch Greenberg, Bobby Harris, and Ronen Ganel Visit with Gilad Shalit

Ironically, just three days later, I was surprised and amazed to find myself  visiting with Gilad  in an apartment in Tel Aviv. Eitan Winerich, a former Coleman Shaliach and Basketball specialist from 1998 and a family friend of the Shalit family, arranged for the meeting to take place. During the meeting, I had the opportunity, along with Ronen Ganel and Hanoch Greenberg (two longtime Coleman staff members from Israel), to speak with Gilad about movies, travel, the NBA, and Camp Coleman.

At the end of last summer, I told the Coleman community that if we keep on working for his release and never forget,  that one day, maybe even by next summer, Gilad might be able to celebrate Shabbat with his family or even with us at Coleman – you never know.

D’var Torah- Delivered May 4 at Kibbutz Shefayim to 2012 URJ Israel Delegation

In the Torah portion of this week, Emor, we read “when you reap the harvest of your fields we need to leave the corners of our fields.” In order for us to have bountiful fields and a fruitful harvest , experience has taught us that we need to plant everything in its proper season. We  also have learned how to work with various types of soils and what to add to them in order that they may yield a rich harvest.

The story of the Chinese Bamboo Tree told to me by my friend and colleague Rabbi Mark Covitz illustrates the connection between patience and agricultural success. It seems that  when the Chinese Bamboo Tree is planted, watered, and nurtured for an entire growing season it doesn’t outwardly grow even an inch. Then, after the second year, a season in which the farmer takes extra care to water, fertilize and care for the bamboo tree, the tree still does not sprout. So it goes as the sun rises and sets for four solid years. The farmer and his wife have nothing tangible to show for all of their labor trying to grow the tree.

Then, along comes year five.

In the fifth year the Chinese Bamboo Tree seed finally sprouts and the bamboo tree grows up to eighty feet in just one growing season!

To  enable wonderful things to happen very often requires patience, hard work, and usually struggle. It is in this spirit of recognizing that great things can happen even when we think that they may never happen- even after 5 years, when we are about to give up.

I want to show you a photo that looks like it could have been taken in Israel but was actually taken in Cleveland, GA, a town of 1907 people.

This past summer, our Mishlachat [Israeli staff] at Camp Coleman stepped up and educated a community of 800 children and 200 staff from all over the world about an Israeli prisoner of war that few if any of them had ever heard of.

Outside our Dining Hall at Camp Coleman we set up a tent for Gilad Shalit, modeled after the tent that was created here in Israel, to remind people of Gilad’s captivity and to advocate for his release from the hands of Hamas.

The campers all learned about him, wrote letters of support to his family, petitioned the UN for his release, raised money to support organizations dedicated to educating about his plight, and held a a silent march–which believe me, in the 50 years of camp might be the most silent that camp ever was. This march is what is captured in the photo, and we also videotaped the march. Make no mistake about it, it was the Kavod [respect] that our Kehillah [community] has for the Mislachat that made this silence and this Kavod for Gilad possible.  After the march, many of the campers came up to me and many members of the delegation thanking us for teaching them about Gilad…IF the story had only ended there, DAYENU.

But it doesn’t. During the summer our  video specialist, David Chernak, accompanied our NFTY teens on their pilgrimage  to Israel and showed Gilad’s parents a video clip of the march that we had at camp. He told the parents that all ages of kids learned about Gilad’s situation and showed them a book of letters that the kids wrote to them. Gilad’s father told David to say “Todah Rabah to Camp Coleman” for doing what we did.  While David was with Gilad’s parents he taped them watching the march at Coleman (which had occurred just a few days earlier). David emailed the video clip back to us at Coleman, and the Coleman kids and staff actually had a chance to see firsthand that Gilad’s parents genuinely appreciated their concern. But the story does not end there, as you know, because Gilad was released in October, and on October 11, I received the following Facebook message from one of the members of our delegation:

Hi Bobby,

In this special day for the Jewish people around the world i wanted to say a big thank’s to you! When i see the hundreds of coleman members- campers and counselours from all over the world publishing status of happiness and excitement for the returning of the kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit i have to confess it makes me feel like we did something important. Thank you for the opportunity of bringing this important topic to the Coleman family!! It’s a holiday for the Israeli nation and the jewish people around the world!! And the Coleman family!

Just Thank’s it means a lot!!

Shana Tova

So, in more ways than one, the journey comes full circle – for this Shaliach, for Gilad, and for Israel.

So, even when all hope seems lost, certain truths and certain connections can not be broken or lost. These truths and connections actually define who we are- in this case as North Americans, Israelis, and as Jews.

Across space, across time, if we are patient and work toward it, we can sometimes find the  way for wonderful things to happen. As it is written “to save one life it is as if we have saved the entire world.”

Bobby Harris is the Director of Youth and Camping Services for the Southeast Region of the URJ, and a Certified Camp Director from the American Camping Association. Bobby has been the Director of Camp Coleman since 1992 and has directed camps since 1986.

Originally posted at Summer Central: URJ Camp Coleman’s Blog

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