“Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge”, wrote theologian, philosopher and Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel.
This summer, youth movements and organisations have taken a brave step in deciding to run residential camps. They made their decisions because they know how transformative residential activities are for Jewish young people. Children and young people are led by ‘madrichim’ – 17+ year old leaders who are slightly older than the young people themselves.
This eco-system of young leaders, creating and facilitating activities for Jewish youth, has formally been in place in Jewish communities since the early 1900s. Residential activities have played a vital role in giving Jewish children spaces to learn, to ask, to wonder and to dream. Jewish identities are formed, life-long friendships forged with the knowledge that as a child grows from chanich/a (participant) to madrich/a (leader) the responsibility of caring for and educating those who follow is passed onwards.
Taking off those rose-tinted glasses for just a moment, today’s youth movements and organisations must create and implement a range of policies and procedures which even 10 or 20 years ago would have not been considered, ensuring our children are safe and secure. They do this well, supported by UJIA, Reshet and Trustee Boards, comprised of a range of voluntary and professional leaders, many of whom themselves benefitted from Jewish youth activities which formed them as young people into the leaders they have gone on to become.
For youth movements and organisations to lead residential activities and Israel Tours, the educational, logistical and financial input cannot be underestimated. And youth movements are led by (on average) 23-year-olds. Graduates of the youth movements themselves, who have chosen to take a Sabbatical year (or sometimes two) to ‘give back’ to the movement they have grown up in, to spend a 12+ hour day working with their team of youth movement peers, to create fantastic activities for children and young people.
Youth movements and organisations are not ‘companies’ employing vast amounts of staff to run PGL (Parents Get Lost) type activities. Youth movements and organisations are fully embedded in the British Jewish community, engaging with families to bring the best of the community to each child and young person. The relationship with families should be a reciprocal one of gratitude and appreciation, something like:
‘Thank you for trusting us to care for and educate your child’
‘Thank you for caring for and educating my child… and for giving my child an additional pathway into the Jewish community, with leadership development opportunities, access to a values-based model which encourages my child to build resilience, to think, to enjoy time with peers and to fulfil their potential in an holistic way…’
Many Youth movements and organisations lose money when they run summer residential camps. Even though they and their trustees know how to ‘balance the books’, the main aim of residential camps is not to make financial profit for the organisation.
The profit is measured in the fantastic experiences of young people. Their Jewish learning, their joy in managing a hike, their joy in having a Friday night meal, with friends and leaders, singing grace after meals loudly, including hand-jive dance moves.
After all the challenges of lockdown, children and young people want to experience Jewish summer camps more than ever. Leaders who missed the opportunity to lead at residential camps last year are raring to go.
And Covid-19 numbers are rising. Youth movements and organisations have been working around the clock for months, to create camps and to mitigate the Covid-19 risk. Government guidance allows unlimited bubbles and our youth organisations have continued to sensibly address the risk of Covid-19 as much as is humanly possible. UJIA and Reshet have been there to support our colleagues in the sector, and we have seen first-hand the amount of work and thought that has gone into providing safe, nurturing environments this summer, in the most difficult of circumstances.
The phrase “we are all in this together” has been used many times through this pandemic. Our young leaders have taken a brave step in making residential camps happen in the summer of 2021, and in 2020, they led day camps, doing all they could within the government guidance last Summer. In reality, there may be outbreaks of Covid-19 at camps, as there have been in schools and in our places of work. We can mitigate for Covid,-19 but not eradicate the virus yet. Our youth movements and organisations could have said :
‘it’s all too difficult, let’s not do it.’
Instead, they have worked tirelessly to ensure youth activities can take place. Some will have difficult decisions to make if there are positive cases over the summer but the decisions to go ahead have been unanimous.
Now is the time to truly appreciate the Jewish youth provision we have in our community for our children and young people. If your child, grandchild, or your next door neighbour’s child is going to a residential camp this summer, that is down to the hard work and tenacity of our youth movements and organisations, and the staff going above and beyond to make it happen As we clapped for our superb NHS, we should cheer loudly for the Jewish youth sector. They are nurturing the children of today, the people who will be our future Jewish communal professionals and volunteers.