Guest post by my husband, Josh Weinstein.
How do you measure success as a parent? Some parents judge themselves by how well their children do in school. Others rank themselves by their children’s social aptitude. There are misguided parents who gauge their own worth against the athletic prowess of their sons or the popularity of their daughters. Far too many parents just don’t give a sh*t. I think many of us desperately want our kids to be “happy” — whatever that means — but know that happiness is an ambiguous concept mainly defined by its absence.
I can’t definitively state which measure is the most accurate or logical. But the other day, I witnessed approximately 3,000 children whose Israeli parents should be damn proud of themselves.
Yesterday, I visited my 16-year-old daughter at her “tzofim machane kayitz,” the Israeli Scouts’ summer getaway. I drove two hours to a forest in Northern Israel, close to the ancient holy city of Tzfat. When I got to the campsite, I was informed that I had to park my car outside the entrance of the forest for security reasons. I and my two other daughters hopped a ride on an exhausted, geriatric bus which trudged up the dusty road to the entrance of the Tzofim campsite nearest to where my daughter’s troop had built their camp. While waiting for the security guards to confirm that we were allowed into the actual campsite, I began to take in the scope of what I was about to witness. Even outside the gate, it was apparent that this was not some manicured glamping experience nor even the relatively ordered structure of the US Boy Scouts’ campsites that I have seen.
At a casual glance, the site looked like it was the best effort of a post-apocalyptic group of survivors who were trying to rebuild society without any top-down organizational structure to guide their efforts.
Once we were cleared and we began to walk through the campsite to get to my daughter’s troop’s site, I realized that there was, in fact, order to the chaos. Every scout troop had its own area. Each area had a number of constructions for specific purposes. There was a huge, creative entrance gate to each campsite that was designed and decorated around a theme. There were Disney characters, video game characters, and anime characters, all massively constructed from heavy timbers and rope and supported by steel beams and more rope. On a related note, I don’t know where Tzofim gets the rope they use, but if there is a hemp manufacturer out there who needs to boost sales, I suggest you get in touch with them. Past each gate, there were outdoor kitchens powered by portable generators and propane gas tanks. There were storage sheds, dining halls, and, for the religious troops, a synagogue with separate sections for boys and girls. There were sleeping pens with laundry racks and clothes racks and recreation areas with swings and benches. In order to make sure the kids didn’t get lost in their own camp, there were maps printed with the layout of each camp near the entrance.
On the face of it, that is impressive enough, right? A campsite built in a forest for 3,000 kids with very little (if any) technology, constructed and maintained in the heat of the Israeli summer. But that’s not what left me speechless. What I understood, walking around this site, and what amazed me most, is also what made me realize that, despite the fact that there are some degenerate Israeli kids whose morals and behavior are merely signifiers for a lack of good parenting, there are a multitude of Israeli parents who are raising stupendous children.
The amazing fact of this Tzofim camp is that it is almost entirely designed and run by those unbelievably dedicated and hard-working children themselves! There are adult guards who protect them, and medical staff for emergencies. There are scattered adults walking around in case there is a problem and adults who empty the port-a-johns and fill the massive fresh water tanks, but all those insanely complicated structures are designed and built by children (though every structure has to be approved by adult engineers). Teens, of course, but still children.
When I was 15, the hardest thing that I had done was study and train to be a lifeguard. These past few months, in the run-up to the event, I watched my 16-year-old daughter stay up till midnight on a school night and 2am during her summer vacation, studying the principles of engineering, learning how to use 3D modeling software, building a scale model, tearing it down and building it again, creating the burlap and canvas skin for her creation, and then finally manage a team of her friends to construct this massive structure. Others in her troop did the same and so did hundreds of others from Tzofim troops around the country.
But, in the words of the late-great TV pitchman, Billy Mays, “That’s not all!” Not only do the kids design and construct their campsites, they plan, organize, and execute all the activities for their campers including meals, leisure time, shower schedules, and prayers. I was in the kitchen where I watched the 16-year-old son of a friend manage a group of parent volunteers and teen helpers while, under his direction, we made lunch for 70 hungry kids and 20 or so hungry and exhausted counselors and staff. This young man never raised his voice and never panicked and we managed to prepare a healthy meal (oily but relatively healthy) in the staggering noon heat and I didn’t hear one camper complain. Gordon Ramsey himself couldn’t have done better.
He was just one of hundreds of kids his age doing similarly adult and seemingly endless work to pull this thing off successfully. They do this every year and I have yet to hear of a single instance of a serious injury or major disaster. The girls and the boys sleep on the ground separated by a fence that they made and nobody gets assaulted. Nobody gets alcohol poisoning or overdoses and very, very few kids come home with anything worse than scrapes on their bodies and dirty laundry in their backpacks.
So I’m proud. But moreover, all of you whose kids participate in this event should be proud. Be proud of your children and be proud of yourselves for fostering an environment where this is possible and where your children have learned independence and character and are inspiring the next generation of children to do the same.