Voices from the field

Letters from Camp: It Takes a Village

JCC Camp Chi

As a child, Roni Sahar spent two summers at camp in Maine and loved it. “I always knew I wanted to go back to camp as a counselor,” she says. When the opportunity to work as an Israeli culture specialist at JCC Camp Chi presented itself, she leapt at the chance to share her love of Israel with campers – and she could hardly have found a better place to do it.

JCC Camp Chi's Israel VillageSeated in Camp Chi’s Israeli Village a few days ago, Roni was excited to talk about the ways she tries to make Israel relevant and accessible to campers of all ages. “I can highlight the things I love about Israel,” she says, “including places in Israel, holidays, and so much more.”

Earlier that day, campers had rotated through stations run by shlichim (Israeli emissaries) who shared information about the geography of Israel. Campers shot hoops, played a memory game, and fashioned themselves into human representations of symbols of the Jewish state.

JCC shlichot and memory gameThe program took place on the camp’s main sports fields, far from the Israeli Village, and that was part of the strategy developed at Camp Chi to infuse Israel into every part of the camp environment. The Israeli Village serves as a “home base” for all things Israel, and counselors and specialists work to make Israel an integral part of every kind of programming throughout the summer.

“I really like that Roni has been leading programs outside of the Village,” says Camp Director Brad Finkel. It may sound funny to hear him say that after he has overseen significant physical improvements to the Village, but the focus on Israel radiates out from the base and enriches all parts of camp life.

Israeli Village shuk market at JCC Camp ChiEvery Friday afternoon, campers and staff gather at the Village for an Israeli shuk market experience that features snacks, music, and a chance to chill with friends before getting ready for Shabbat. A new firepit in the Village will soon be the venue for outdoor cooking with an Israeli flavor, and many programs take place on the giant concrete map of Israel and in the brand-new Bedouin tent.

Roni says that years in the Israeli scouts prepared her for her work in the Israeli Village. “I draw on my experience in the Scouts to plan programs for campers,” she says. “It’s really hard work but it’s so much fun. When campers get excited about Israel programming, I know my work has value.”

Each summer, The iCenter, in partnership with the Foundation for Jewish Camp and the Jewish Agency for Israel, collaborates with dozens of Jewish camps across North America, helping their staff members infuse Israel into the magic of the summer season. Whether camps participate in the Israel @ Camp Intensive or another regional program, or receive the educational resources we send each spring, their work helps make Israel an integral part of the camp experience for tens of thousands of young Jews. As members of The iCenter team visit camps across the U.S. and Canada, we share Letters from Camp that highlight some of the innovative and effective ways that camp staff members are helping campers engage with Israel.