Why Israeli Staff Are So Important To Camp

Here’s to the crazy ones. The ones who go to seminars to learn how to be a camp counselor and how Americans say “I appreciate it” like it means nothing. The ones who hop a flight through the Jewish Agency to spend a summer 24/7 with a second language getting culture shock from how loud meals can be. The “em”s and the “how you say”s. The ones who learn that little American kids can, too, be lovable, even as they complain about the thought of a Teva. The ones who are swallowed by camp, navigating the American cliques, but still wanting to be there every second with their campers and leading meditation in Hebrew for a lights-out activity before singing the “moon song.”

The Israelis. They bring food, attitude, accents, and their story to Jewish summer camps across the country. While campers are learning to be the best versions of themselves, the Israelis add in their own spice while helping to educate even the counselors. I didn’t learn about diversity in Israel from Wikipedia, I learned about it my first year on staff at Herzl Camp when one of the Israelis mentioned that her family was from Morocco and South America. I didn’t learn about casual Arabic slang in Hebrew from StandWithUS, I learned it from the Israelis. I didn’t learn about Israeli geography from school, I learned it from the Israeli Scouts.

How do they get here, where do they go? The J-1 Visa Camp Counselor and Summer Work Travel (SWT) programs, and usually South America. Camp is a pit stop for the Israelis as they begin their post-army travels across the world, and yet they give it their all. Everything from being the Zohan for their campers to making hand-carved prayers given on the last day of camp.

But without the J-1 Visa and SWT programs, they can’t do all that. They can’t add that crucial Israeli Jewish spice to the best place on earth. With the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order, that risk is on the horizon.

I’ve had the blessing of working with a lot of Israelis at summer camp, and camp wouldn’t be the same without them. They also wouldn’t be the same without camp, as many, mostly secular Jews learn songs of prayer and, after the initial culture shock of liberal Judaism, sing and sway along with the poetry. From this, they take away that there is another way to be Jewish than what the Rabbinate says in Israel. They are made better by understanding America and we are made better by understanding Israel through their eyes.

Please, contact your representatives in the House and Senate and help the American Camp Association advocate for the Israelis and for camps across the country. For the kids. For the Israelis. For the global Jewish community, so often nowadays politically divided between Israel and America. For ourselves. But mostly, as always, for the kids.