A Dream for Me: Israel with my Campers
Written by: Ari Sadek
Among many lessons that the past three years as a staff member at Interlaken have taught me, the following stands out to me recently: in both the most amazing and most difficult moments, it is important to remember that everything turns out the way it was meant to be. I recall the disappointment of missing what was supposed to be my first year on staff in the summer of 2020. However, only in hindsight I now realize how that bottled up excitement and passion led to the explosive summer of 2021. Once again, that summer ended up teaching me the same lesson. What I perceived in the moment as setbacks to providing the best summer ever turned out to foster deeper relationships with my campers than I could have ever imagined. Challenges such as the COVID protocols and cabin isolation created a unique experience, one that created strong bonds amongst the campers as well as with the staff. That amazing group of ninth graders became K’farniks, and I got the opportunity to be one of their K’far Noar directors. While we still weren’t free from the tyranny of COVID, summer 2022 was an incredible time for all. Being one of the largest grades to enter the village in recent memory, the campers had an incredible and hard working team of counselors to guide them through their concluding summer before transitioning their roles in camp.
As for my future with these campers and camp in general, it was unclear. For people my age, there are so many pressures, both internal and external, to orient ourselves towards a career, to get an internship, to leave camp in childhood and move onto adulthood. I wanted so badly to keep following this group of campers, take them to Israel, and be their Papa Ozo, but doubt clouded my thought process. At least it did until mid-January of this year, when Toni called me with two offers. First, to chaperone the Israel trip, and second along with it, to be a part of the first cohort of a fellowship from a non-profit organization called RootOne. As an organization, their mission is to involve Jewish youth with Israel through education, as well as vouchers to help as many teens as possible get the opportunity to go. The fellowship, centered around trip recruitment and work with peers from other camps, addressed some of my anxieties, and would provide an easy path to stay at camp for two more years. My answer was an immediate yes, and I signed on to work at camp for both summer 2023 and 2024, chaperoning 2023’s Israel trip and getting to work with the same teens in the Ozrim program in summer 2024!
The three weeks I spent in Israel this past summer was an amazing example of my lesson: Every moment seemed to be a living example of things working out exactly as intended. To begin, the thirty four campers signed up for the trip showed up with an excitement much deeper than I was expecting. Not only was everyone eager for the fun moments and the time with friends, but the immediate sense that I got was that they were looking for a truly meaningful and spiritual experience. They were seeking to learn, to connect with the land, to get to know the people, to understand the history, and to find a new home in this holy place. All of this and more came to fruition, thanks greatly in part to a thoroughly comprehensive itinerary. In hindsight, I can’t overlook how important its diversity was in creating the dynamic of our trip. I think about our first stop, Jerusalem, and how the activities complemented each other so well. A lecture on the separation of gender at the Western Wall, followed by getting to visit both the main and egalitarian sections of the wall. Taking in the sights of the old city while walking on top the rampart wall, followed by traversing Hezekiah’s tunnel transporting us underneath. Getting to experience a vast range of museums from the Israel museum, to Yad Vashem, and the Museum of the Jewish People. Learning about Bedouin culture in the south, Druze in the north, and seeing the contrasts in the variety of people that live in Israel. With all of this came the activities that were pure fun: snorkeling in the Red Sea, surfing in the Mediterranean, rafting down the Jordan River and a cruise on the Sea of Galilee. I believe it was deeply important as well for us to explore each corner of the country, visiting Eilat in the south, Mt. Ben Tal in the north, having a lecture in the West Bank, and going right up to the border with Gaza. Tel Aviv was a fantastic place to end our trip, as we got to see the ancient, represented by Jaffa, right next to the modern, walking down Rothschild Boulevard. While each of the campers came into the trip with their own level of Israel knowledge, over the course of the trip they each got to see so much of what the country has to offer, and created a shared memory that will represent a new, if not first, chapter in their relationship with the country.
While the itinerary was stellar, it was not the only contributing factor that made that trip all that it was. Diane and Lizzie, the other American chaperones, Maya, our Israeli chaperone, and Benzi, our tour guide, were incredible leaders for both the campers and myself to look up to. I am incredibly grateful to them for not only all the hard work they put into making this trip as memorable as possible for the campers, but also for how they supported me so that I could do my best job. Even though I was the youngest of the staff team, I felt like my voice absolutely mattered equally to them. The experience I had on this trip shaped my self conception as a Jewish person, as someone in the camp community, and as a leader in general. It was absolutely priceless, and I am so happy that I got to spend a third summer with the same group of campers that made me refall in love with camp as a staff member. I’m looking forward to a fourth of everything turning out just how it’s meant to!