Sometimes, as parents and educators we forget about the learning that takes place outside of the classroom. With all of the discussions currently going on about how to change what happens within the school building, we sometimes forget the valuable life lessons that can take place in the most unexpected locations and at the most unexpected times.
This summer my oldest son attended Bnei Akiva’s Camp Amichai. His cousins had attended the camp for several summers and always seemed to have a great time. Yet, I was very apprehensive about letting my son attend. For starters, 3 weeks is a long time, at least here in Israel, to send your kid away. My Israeli friends could not believe that there was a camp program in Israel that was this long. Three weeks may not seem like a long time, but the longest he had been away from home “on his own” before this was three days! It was actually my wife who convinced me that our son was old enough and that it would be a good break period for all of us. For anyone who has ever raised an eleven-year-old, you know that the everyday routine is not without its ups and downs. Okay, good point about this 3eek break, but that was not my only reservation.
Amongst the Anglo community living here in Modi’in, Camp Amichai is perceived as an Anglo camp. Even my own nieces and nephews had confirmed that most of the interaction between the campers takes place in English, and that even most of the counselors were from Anglo households. After spending the last eight years integrating and adjusting to an Israeli way of life, did I really want to put my son back in a seemingly Anglo centric environment? A lot of my own training and experiences as a teacher were telling me that this was not such a great idea. Again though, my wife’s strong reasoning prevailed and she convinced me that being in this Anglo environment for 3 weeks was not such a bad thing. Okay, another good point, but I was not there yet. There was one more BIG issue!
Every parent knows that camps are expensive. Somehow, we figure out a way to keep our kids entertained during the summer months without having to skip those mortgage payments. Camp Amichai, (at least in my opinion) brought “expensive” to a new level. At 6,500 NIS this was the entire monthly income for some families. For a variety of reasons, the price did not bother some, but I was a bit taken aback, that a three-week camp could cost this much. My wife and I both work hard, and thank the good Lord we do okay. This price tag however, was a lot to take. Before we even started considering if this was possible, my wife once again stepped in and between her efforts and a nice gift from Grandma and Grandpa, we were able to move forward.
As the bus pulled up on the first day, I could not believe that this was actually happening. Yet, the smile on my son’s face and the excitement of what was to come, made it, at that time, well worth it. I was still, however not convinced that this was the right choice for my child.
So, fast forward ten days to the camp’s visiting day. Yes, even though we had just put the kids on the bus ten days earlier, here we were driving 2 hours up North to see our precious children. I was not so excited, and from the time we parked the car, I was already looking at my watch to see how long until we could head back to Modi’in. Then something amazing happened. As we entered the camp grounds, my 11-year-old son immediately said “thank you for coming.” My wife and I were a bit surprised but she gave him a big hug and we assured him that we were happy to be there. Then, my son took us on a tour of the camp. When we went to his bunk, he immediately opened the fridge and gave his little brother a special snack that he had saved just for him. My wife and I were again taken back. My kids get along, but like with many pre-teen boys, they are not always so openly cordial with each other. The day turned into a very nice afternoon. We stopped for lunch and my son was so appreciative of the sandwich my wife had brought from home. Truth is, after eating the camp food, we could understand his excitement at home cooking, but still, the reaction was a bit surprising. The last event of the day was a special presentation that the campers had rehearsed. When we arrived at the field to watch, there were not enough chairs. My son immediately, without being asked, went and found chairs so we could sit and watch the performances. It was at this moment that I knew I would have to admit that I was in fact wrong! Camp Amichai was not just a positive experience for my son, but was really a life altering rite of passage.
My son has now been home for a week, and the behavior changes have continued. He has been more polite, and has even performed chores without being asked. Yesterday, at the Shabbat table, for the first time ever, my son was eager to join me in singing Zmirot (special Shabbat songs) and even taught me a new song he had learned at camp. Now, I know that no kid is perfect and as with every child, there will be good days and bad days. What I do know however is that this time away from home had what my wife and I have started calling, the “magic touch.” In many ways, my son came home a different person. So, despite the length of camp, the Anglo environment, and the cost, I can say that this experience was more than a success.
As a teacher, this experience has made me think about the education that takes place outside of the classroom, and how important it is to make sure our kids are in the best environments. Math and science are easy, as they can be taught from a book. Behaviors and our general outlooks on life though, are at least in part, dependent on the environments in which we place our children. As parents and as educators we need to remember this. My son’s summer experience proved that locations and even certain groups can have a profound effect on a person’s development. We are grateful to Camp Amichai that the effects have been so positive.
Now, my only challenge is that my second son wants to go next summer too! I better start negotiating with Grandma and Grandpa…