On my first day of staff week at URJ 6 Points Sports Academy, I walked into the dining hall and received the warmest welcome: the staff sang a rousing rendition of Hevainu Shalom Aleichem (we bring you peace) with lots of clapping and banging on tables. Each new visitor to camp is welcomed in the same way.
The URJ has been bringing Israeli counselors to camp for many years. Their presence offers several valuable benefits to the camp program.
Israeli counselors bring a unique cultural perspective and firsthand understanding of Israeli society, history, and Jewish heritage to our campers. This provides campers with an opportunity to learn about Israel, its people, and its traditions while embodying the URJ’s commitment to strengthening the Reform Movement’s ties to Israel and Jewish Peoplehood. At many URJ camps, the Israeli staff hold an “Israel day” where campers learn about the geography and history of Israel, traditional games like “Kadima,” and other topics.
Campers’ connections to Israel are naturally strengthened as they spend time with the Israeli counselors. The counselors’ personal stories, experiences, and knowledge provides campers with an authentic understanding of Israeli life, fostering their sense of belonging to the global Jewish community.
Each day at URJ 6 Points Sports Academy, an Israeli counselor teaches campers a popular Hebrew word or expression during lunch. Examples include eizeh kef (what fun) and b’hatzlecha (good luck). Campers and staff are also exposed to Hebrew when the Israeli counselors teach them Hebrew vocabulary and songs. Knowing Hebrew helps our campers connect more deeply with their Jewish identities.
Israeli counselors often serve as role models for campers, showcasing the diversity and vibrancy of Jewish culture. Israeli staff come from many different backgrounds. Before Israel, their families were from Eastern Europe, Spain, Morocco, Ethiopia, and other places. They inspire campers with their passion, leadership, and commitment to Jewish values and encourage them to embrace their own Jewish identity.
Israeli counselors help enhance our Jewish educational programming by leading discussions, workshops, and activities that promote Jewish learning. They also work to engage campers in Jewish traditions and rituals while helping them gain a deeper understanding of Jewish history and values.
Campers broaden their worldview and deepen their appreciation for Jewish life beyond their local community when they speak with Israeli counselors. These interactions promote tolerance, understanding, and a sense of global unity.
The relationships formed between campers and Israeli counselors often lasts well after camp has ended. These connections lead to lifelong friendships, visits to Israel, and further engagement with Jewish and Israeli culture.
Naveh Menin first came to 6 Points Sports Academy as a member of the Mishlachat (delegation) in 2014 and returned in 2015. This year, he is back as a basketball coach. “I fell in love with the camp community. I was amazed at how I was accepted as a shaliach,(ambassador)” he said. He shared that every time he sees the faces of people who remember him, he can’t believe it.
Jackie Gordon, Director at 6 Points Sports Academy, met her group of Israeli staff in April at a seminar in Israel. She shared that, “they tend to be older and have different experiences; they offer us an opportunity to incorporate the land of Israel and Hebrew in a more authentic way. They come to camp with a built-in community because they meet as a group in Israel. They come to camp so excited to be here.” The ultimate value of bringing Israeli counselors to camp lies in fostering a sense of belonging, strengthening Jewish identity, and promoting a deeper connection to Israel amongst campers, counselors, and staff. There is something especially powerful about creating a summer community with Israelis as they integrate into camp and help everyone feel proud and connected to their Jewish heritage.