By Lori Sagarin, RJE, Director of Congregational Learning at Temple Beth Israel in Skokie, IL, and Faculty in the Mercaz Ivrit
For the first time this year my husband and I were at camp for Chalutzim Visitor’s Day. Having worked as faculty in Chalutzim, I knew the drill. Hours of preparation for an event that demonstrates what Chalutzim is to the uninitiated. Being an old timer I was prepared to be, shall we say, unimpressed but BOY WAS I WRONG!
Chalutzim is the only program of its kind in the world. A 7-week intensive Hebrew program in a Jewish summer camp that takes the campers on a journey of discovery of not only the place of Hebrew in their lives, but by (not so much of an) extension, Israel. Jim and I are both fluent Hebrew speakers and for us, the learning of Hebrew is a value we uphold day in and day out. We both studied Hebrew (I majored in it) in college and use it regularly in our work. Sending our son to Chalutzim was a given. What he was going to get out of it was not.
We sat in the kitat z’evim (Wolf class, no levels here!) and watched two young Israeli madrichim lead a beautiful lesson that engaged the students and parents in contemporary Israeli music, their relationship to Israel and provided numerous opportunities for the kids to speak. We looked at our (mostly) quiet son and watched him describe how music is his connection to Israel because at home there is Israeli music all the time. Cue the tears. This was followed by free time with our kids and concluded with a remarkable presentation of music, dance and humor, all in Hebrew. The musicianship, the depth of humor and the pure joy emanating from these 75 teens…..pure magic.
This I know for sure and I tell my congregants all the time: There are two things parents can do, outside of synagogue affiliation, outside of home celebration that will all but insure your children will grow up to seek out a continued relationship with the Jewish community and create a strong Jewish identity. Those two things are Jewish camp and a teen Israel experience. For those who are not yet at that stage, know your kids are on the Chalutzim trajectory. Chalutzim is the jewel in the crown that is OSRUI. It is and should be in your future. An Israel experience is also in their future and I truly believe that these are the greatest gifts we can give our kids. They are gifts that will outlast any material possession, these are life-long and sustainable. I for one feel blessed that my children have enjoyed both. I wish the same for each of you.