Wild Rose

The author (right) running a Zionist night-activity in Camp Moshava, Wild Rose in July of 2008. (Doni Kandel)

To this day, random daily interactions take me back to summer camp. I have not set foot in the sprawling fields of Wild Rose, Wisconsin in over five years yet the smell of a bonfire, the blasting of a Jimmy Eat World song, or a bag of Reese’s Pieces can bring back a rush of nostalgia that washes over me like a warm shower on a cold winter’s night (or more appropriately since we are talking Wisconsin summers, a cold shower on a hot and humid night).

There is another scene that reminds me of summer camp in the most significant of ways. It is the sound of small cries slowly building to deep heaving sobs. More on that later.

Presently, please allow me to demonstrate how egregiously absurd and misguided Haaretz blogger Mira Sucharov’s post, “Showing Israel’s dark side at summer camps”, is.

The laundry list of standard Zionist camp events that Sucharov feels fosters too positive an image of Israel is pathetic. The idea that one can foster an image of Israel that is TOO POSITIVE in general is appalling. This is the sickness of the liberal leftist Jew.

Sucharov is weary of such nefarious things such as Israeli dance, American-Idol type competitions, IDF day and councilors dressed up like Ben Gurion.

Sucharov even points to religious commemorations as something that makes Zionists camps bizarre and inappropriate. She writes, “Neither is it rare, at Jewish camps, for Zionist euphoria to be paired with outright melancholy. Jewish camps already tend to be quite good at simulating experiences of Jewish persecution and redemption. Who hasn’t spent a lakeside Tisha B’av mired in inter-generational memory of collective persecution? And who hasn’t played a moonlight version of “tower and stockade,” the Jewish version of capture the flag? At my camp, the ‘escape from the Soviet Union’ program was an annual highlight.” How dastardly!

What is Sucharov’s solution? She poses, “might we allow our Israel educators to pause to reflect the human cost that was wrought by world Jewry’s greatest modern triumph? Alongside the simulations of maddening Soviet-style bureaucracy, would we consider creating West Bank checkpoint simulations, with some campers assigned to be soldiers and others, Palestinians? And as our campers race across the field playing “tower and stockade” and creating the Jewish State all over again, would we ever allow words like “nakba” to enter the summer lexicon?”

The reason why we would NOT ALLOW this, Mira, is that these liberal self-hating talking points are, in fact, not in any way, shape or form Zionist ideas and should never EVER appear in the Zionist lexicon.

The remedy for the ills of Zionist summer camps, according to Sucharov, is the anti-Zionising of them.

This, she argues, will allow kids to understand the larger global picture of Israel in the international community and the “cost that was wrought” by the Jews being blessed with a homeland of their own. This plan, according to Mira, will show campers “Israel’s dark side”.

Allow me to return to the sobbing I digressed from earlier.

The first time I encountered this in camp was in the middle of the dining hall at dinner, when the camper’s favorite Israeli staff member, Sa’ar, had to inform the entire camp that he was leaving back to Israel mid-session to help his family prepare to move. As his whimpers turned into sobs he explained that he came from a beautiful coastal area known as Gush Katif, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had just announced they were going to give it all to the Palestinians in a unilateral sign of goodwill and his family would be out on the streets as a result. My heart still hurts when I think of Sa’ar in the spotlight that night.

The second story of sobbing occurred the following summer. On July 16, 2008 I was the Deputy Program Director of Camp Moshava Wild Rose. At the end of a long day I retired to my sleeping quarters which happened to be the room across from my office. As I laid down enjoying the peace and quiet, I began to hear loud excitement coming from across the hall. Annoyed, I pulled myself out of bed and stuck my head into the room to see what the commotion was all about.

Sitting at my computer was every single Israeli that worked at the camp for the summer. In all the hustle and bustle of camp-life I had forgotten that today was the day Israel was supposed to get their kidnapped soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser back from Hezbollah. In fact, we had even been working on a celebratory program for the campers in the upcoming days.

The Israelis, a handful of councilors and I sat with nervous excitement, eating popcorn and candy ready to cheer, hug and probably shed a tear or two.

The live feed from Israeli TV came online.

At the border crossing, Hezbollah vans pulled up backwards, the trunk doors swung open, and for what felt like an eternity one black coffin, then another, was pulled out and placed on the ground.

The room, seconds before filled with the possibility of limitless joy (a joy I, thank G-d, was able to experience years later when Gilad Shalit was returned home) was doused in morose silence. Then the whimpers began. Slowly but surely, the whimpers built into deep heavy sobbing.

Unfortunately, the time for personal grieving was but a short one that night. Everyone in that room had to figure out the appropriate way to explain what just unfolded to a bunch of elementary-school children, and how it is still worth living in Israel, as we had been preaching to them all summer long.

We all grew up that week. The Israelis, the councilors, the campers and I.

This is “Israel’s dark side” Ms. Sucharov. It means sacrificing for what we believe in because the land G-d gave the Jewish people is worth sacrificing for. Summer camps, the greatest tool of informal education, something many kids desperately need due to the failings of our school systems, is the perfect opportunity to explain that Israel is about making hard decisions for the greater good. For teaching young children that they have a responsibility to the thousands who have died so that they can have a safe and secure Israel today. For teaching them that security measures the world will call cruel and unusual, to an average Israeli who just wants to get through the day without one of their loved one’s lives being endangered, are sadly necessary despite the fact that it will be condemned more than the greatest murderers in history ever will be…and that is ok.

To suggest that Zionist summer camps should teach that Israel practices insidious policies is not only a distortion of the facts but a suggestion that, if adopted, can signal the end of future support for the State of Israel from diaspora Jewry.

I ask you Mira Sucharov, is that a successful summer program to you?

The author, originally from Los Angeles, now living in central Israel, is currently studying for his M.A. in Counter-Terrorism and Homeland Security at the IDC Herzliya, a columnist for The Washington Times Communities, which can be found at http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/s-right-i-said-it/ as well as the editor-in-chief of BreakingIsraelNews.com