Voices from the field

Letters from Camp: Preparing for the Journey

Camp Wise

On a recent evening, a group of teens sat around a bonfire at Camp Wise with members of the mishlachat (Israeli staff delegation). But this campfire was unlike any other that had taken place around this fire pit because the teens were about to embark on Camp Wise’s 11th-grade Israel trip, and the shlichim (Israeli emissaries) were helping prepare them for the adventure. Camp Wise, the JCC camp for the Cleveland metropolitan area, has undergone a transformation in the past three summers. For years, rising high school juniors could choose between going to Israel during the summer or coming to camp as junior counselors in training. In 2017, the Israel trip became a mandatory element of the summer program for rising juniors. Camp made the move after a lot of thought from community and camp leadership, and it brought excitement and trepidation.

Earlier that day, campers had rotated through stations run by shlichim 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.

Many campers always had opted for the camp option. Would they join the Israel trip?

In 2017, only 18 campers went on the trip. Working with The iCenter, Camp Wise began a process of integrating Israel programming into every camper’s experiences at camp, with the goal of building an educational and programmatic ladder leading to the Israel trip. They also took a hard look at how to frame the trip for participants before they go and once they return. That bonfire marked the first time trip participants got to spend time with the mishlachat before departing for Israel. The Israeli counselors reviewed the trip itinerary and talked about their favorite places to eat and visit in each of the spots on the journey.

The participants prepared questions for the shlichim. One example: “With everything we’ve been taught about Israel at camp and in Hebrew school, what do you think will surprise us the most when we get to Israel?” The answers included “the beauty of the nature,” “the friendliness of the people if you ask them a question about their lives,” and of course, “the haggling.” That last comment led to an impromptu training session on haggling that left everyone laughing.

Before the group of 38 campers left for Israel, the shlichim gave them one more gift: a scavenger hunt they created of things to see, do, and find in Israel. When they come back to camp at the end of the trip, the participants will share another bonfire with the shlichim. This time, they’ll share stories about new experiences, new foods, new friends, and, of course, their haggling successes.

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.