While participating in virtual celebrations of Yom Ha’atzmaut last night and today, I — like so many of you — feel a real longing to be in Israel right now. l yearn to visit family and friends, to soak in the sights, sounds, and tastes that nourish my body and soul, and to be rejuvenated by the sense of belonging and peoplehood I feel whenever I am there.
The pandemic makes this holiday somewhat bittersweet, as typically this time of year, camp professionals and FJC staff travel to Israel for various meetings, programs, and events, including to work with our important partner, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) preparing for the upcoming camp season. While missing being there in person, I know that our connections have remained strong.
Israel plays an essential role in the Jewish camp program each summer, as I can attest from my personal camp experiences (many moons ago), where my own relationship with Israel developed and grew. The presence and engagement of Israeli shlichim, the intentional incorporation of Israel programming and education, and the active inclusion of Hebrew, all combine as intrinsic elements of the camper experience.
As we celebrate Israel’s 73 years today, our camp community is filled with excitement and anticipation. We all need camp more than ever this summer, and we are particularly pleased that the JAFI shlichim will be able to travel from Israel to join camps. And we are hopeful and encouraged by recent updates from Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, that the teen travel programs to Israel — for many, the culminating camper experience — might still be able to take place this summer.
Hebrew plays an important role in FJC’s overall strategy for enhancing the Jewish impact of day and overnight camps. Over the past 7 years, FJC has partnered with the Areivim Philanthropic Group in Kayitz Kef – a Hebrew at Camp immersion program for children attending Jewish Day Camps across North America. We know the camp setting can transmit Hebrew in a joyfully Jewish way and a recently released research study shows that Hebrew immersion builds a stronger connection to Israel and Jewish peoplehood. I encourage you to read this article Promising new evidence: Becoming connected to Israel through Hebrew.
This new research joins many other past studies which confirm that Jewish camp fosters a strong, close relationship with Israel. We know that adults who attended Jewish camps in their youth are 55% more likely to feel emotionally attached to Israel than those who didn’t. As tens of thousands of campers and staff prepare to return to their second home this summer, they will truly celebrate being together and connecting to our other second home, Israel.