Last November, I thought I’d lost my home away from home.
I was traveling in South America and without cellphone service for several days. When I was able to reconnect, I learned of the Woolsey Fire, which destroyed much of the facilities of three Jewish summer camps in the Malibu area — including Camp Hess Kramer, where just several months earlier I’d served as one of The Jewish Agency for Israel’s North American Summer Camp Shlichim (Israeli emissaries).
On that same day that I heard about the fire, I immediately reached out to my friends and colleagues from camp. As devastating as the news of the fire was for me, I couldn’t imagine how difficult it was for them, dealing with the unspeakable damage in person. Although I couldn’t contribute to the recovery effort on the ground, I arranged a camp-style Friday night dinner with my fellow past Shlichim in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in California.
Although I’d only spent one summer at Camp Hess Kramer, it was one of the best summers of my life. As a Shlicha, I experienced an incredible journey authentically connecting with the campers and answering all their questions about life in Israel. On the last day of camp, one camper came to me crying saying she’d never connected to an Israeli counselor like this before and that she really hoped I’d come back next year.
In fact, even before November’s fire, I knew I’d return to Camp Hess Kramer this summer. Last year, though I had the opportunity to form many new friendships, I spent at least half the summer figuring out exactly how camp works and how I could make the most of my time as a Shlicha. I knew that the summer of 2019 would give me the chance to focus more on the campers, bring more of my own identity into the camp setting, and teach this Diaspora community about Israel in deeper and more complex ways.
Then, after hearing about the fire, I realized that my mission as a Shlicha this summer would be even more important. I’d play a central role in a crucial summer in the camp’s history — a summer of healing, resilience, and hope for a vibrant future, all with strong emphases on cultivating Jewish identity and connections to Israel.
And here I am, back at Camp Hess Kramer — only this time at our temporary home in Cal State Channel Islands in Camarillo. This summer, we’ve been navigating some difficulties associated with the new site. Initially, it seemed like campers had concerns about whether the new site would work for us, and they missed their longtime camp.
But now, it seems that almost everyone has adjusted to our new surroundings. Camp is more about the people, the activities, and the rituals than it is about the physical location. The relationships developed at camp are what make up the heart and soul of the experience. Of course, once in a while a camper or counselor still comments about how camp life was smoother at the old site. Yet so far, the college has provided us with everything we need to feel at home.
Along the same lines, I’ve been able to transition and grow my own role and responsibilities from one site to the next. As one of The Jewish Agency’s group of over 1,400 Summer Camp Shlichim throughout North America this year, I represent Israel as a living and thriving Jewish state. Whenever the American campers and counselors with whom I’m sharing this summer read or hear about Israel in the news during the rest of the year, they can be reminded of me and my fellow Shlichim in order to share an authentic picture of Israel with their communities. And when they visit Israel in the future, they can truly feel at home due to a greater understanding of Israeli culture and a stronger connection to the Jewish people.
In truth, I didn’t lose my home away from home in the Woolsey Fire. A fire can physically damage a camp site, but it can never diminish the strength of Israel-Diaspora connectedness.