On August 29th, 2012, three weeks after concluding my first summer as a staff member at Camp Newman, I moved to Israel to spend five months in Jerusalem, studying, volunteering, and just living. I am one of around 70 American participants in the gap year program Aardvark Israel, run through the Masa Israel organization, and couldn’t be having a more interesting and meaningful experience. Everyday has been a new adventure, whether I barely leave my apartment or travel hundreds of kilometers North or South to see some of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever come across. During a normal week, I volunteer at an Israeli preschool (or Gan) and help the teachers prepare art projects for the kids. I’m the only one who speaks English (or, should I say, the only one who doesn’t speak fluent Hebrew), so every day has been a challenge in trying to communicate, and be as helpful as possible in this setting. As a result, I like to think I know how to say most arts and crafts supplies in Hebrew! Volunteering takes up my mornings, and then after a few hours for lunch I walk down the stairs of my apartment building to the classrooms located on the bottom floor, and take courses dealing with things from Tanach to politics. In addition to this, once a week our entire group takes a siyyur (field trip) to a different location around Jerusalem. So far we’ve visited sites such as the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, Hebron (where Abraham, Sarah, and other patriarchs and matriarchs lived), and other fascinating historical and cultural places. Around once a month we are also given the opportunity to take a larger trip a bit farther away from us, to see everything this country has to offer. So far this has included places like the Galilee (beautiful hikes and beautiful views), and even a Kibbutz in the Negev desert which was started almost 40 years ago by a group of American gap year students and is now the main date provider of Israel, as well as being at the forefront of renewable energy research. Day to day life in this country is absolutely incredible, and I can’t say enough how thankful I am to be in this position and to be fortunate enough to have this opportunity.
Throughout the first two months of my semester, I’ve come to question how exactly I got to this point, and what motivations were most prevalent in my decision to study abroad in this particular country. As I’m sure has been said before, I am in Israel because of Camp Newman and my experiences as a camper and a staff member over the last ten years of my life. Whether or not I remember every single Israel program I’ve participated in at camp, I am certain that every year I spent as a camper we were immersed into Israel culture for at least a couple hours if not a full day. We learned about things ranging from Israeli music and culture, to the Israeli Defense Force and some of the conflicts Israel has gone through in its history. Over time, Camp Newman instilled in me a fascination in this Jewish state, and fostered my interest in one day living here and seeing all that it has to offer. The mishlachat (Israeli delegation at camp) also played a large role, especially this most recent summer where I was fortunate enough to be hired as a camp counselor. During some of the staff programs, and just throughout the summer as part of a staff community, I developed friendships with the Israeli crowd like I never had before. I was effectively friendly with all the mishlachat, and over the summer some of my funniest and most meaningful came by spending time with some of the Israelis. The prospect of living in Israel for a longer period of time, and getting to see some of these people I grew to love in a totally different context made coming to this country an even more appealing idea. I‘ve made plans with many past mishlachat members to spend some time getting unique perspectives on Israel and see how my close friends live in their home country. I am so thankful that Camp Newman gave me the opportunity to meet people like this, and in turn reinforce my decision to spend a semester here.
My experiences as a camper and staff member have also proven to be helpful in finding my way in this new country. During my volunteer work at the local preschool, I use a lot of the skills I gained being a counselor to help the kids in whatever way I can, whether it be settling disputes over whose building block is whose, or helping them sort out a difficult aquarium puzzle. Living with cabinmates also made my transition to communal apartment living much easier. Budgeting and cleaning have been new concepts, but getting along with a group of Jewish peers couldn’t be more comfortable for me, and I have camp to thank for that. Newman has found a way to permeate everything I involve myself in, and at no point has this been more apparent than the past two months I’ve spent in this amazing country.
Just as I’ve been using skills I learned at camp here in Israel, I know I am gaining skills to bring right back to camp when I hopefully return this next summer. My knowledge of Israel has expanded vastly, which I know is key to some major parts of camp education. Israel programs are always important events at camp, and I know feel more well equipped to help lead, or even plan some of these programs for whichever group I’m involved in. The things I am learning here are important, and are not meant to be kept under wraps in my head, and I hope that I get the opportunity to share my experience with others at camp. On another front, I’m also growing a lot as a person, and I know this maturation can translate into a whole new perspective on being a staff member at camp. I believe one of the best ways to inspire others is to have a strong sense of self and an ever-solidifying system of beliefs, and that is exactly what I am developing here in Israel. I hope to be able to bring what I have done and am continuing to do here back with me, and empower the camp community in any way I possibly can.
I grew up at Camp Newman hearing about Israel. This included eating pita in a “Bedouin tent” (the Pinat Tefillah), going through a crash course or two in IDF training on a military base (the lower field), playing in the Maccabi Games (Yom Sport), becoming educated on historical conflicts of the past as well as some of the more recent ones such as the capture and release of Gilad Shalit, being introduced to the world of the Israeli Scouts youth movement, watching Israelis play soccer and have no idea why they’d prefer that over frisbee, eating shawarma and pita for lunch a few times per summer, seeing my whole camp covered in blue and white flags every now and then, and, more than anything, just becoming educated on what Israel is as a historical nation, a present day disputed state, and the home for me and the rest of the Jewish people. I value each and every time Camp Newman exposed me to Israel, for I know without all of that exposure I most definitely wouldn’t have found myself here, having one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve ever had. I don’t know how, but camp has found a way to become both life, and the details, all at the same time.
Camper, 2003-2011, Staff 2012