Toni’s Trip to London & Israel to Meet Our Staff

***We are having an amazing beginning of the summer!  The International staff that I talk about below are absolutely amazing!  I did write this article when I returned from my trip!  Enjoy the background and the story of the International Staff and their onboarding to Camp Interlaken.  We truly love them, and they have already added so much to our community! ***

We are very excited for the summer, and it is quickly approaching!  Our team has recruited, retained, and stumbled upon some phenomenal talent, and we are so excited to bring our camp community together in a couple short months.  We are working on mapping out and planning our staff orientation weeks.  We will put together a comprehensive and immersive camp orientation experience for our staff so they are ready to accept and care for our 400+ campers who will have the summer of their lives. 

For me, staff training began early this year.  In March, we brought together our Village Directors and social worker for a weekend lock in where we explored a comprehensive and relevant agenda together, brainstormed together to optimize camp operations, and worked together to build the best support for our camp community for the summer of 2024.  It was a phenomenal weekend, and we accomplished and planned many things together.  At the end of the weekend, we wished we had more time, and it was a great kickoff to a great summer. 

I am just returning from a trip abroad; I had the privilege of visiting London and Israel to meet and orient our British and Israeli staff.  In the UK, we work with an organization (among a few others) called JCUSA.  They hire British, Jewish Staff to work in American Jewish Camps.  They invite a leader from each camp to visit the UK to meet their delegation and spend a full day facilitating training while getting to know the British staff. 

Josh Lipshaw, Josh Soloway, Jacob, Maddie & Samantha is in the front next to Toni!

Through JCUSA, Interlaken hired 7 Jewish British counselors, two of whom are in Israel as they just finished a Gap year program called Mechinah.  I loved meeting our 5 British staff in person, and they filled our “camp room” with ruach and excitement for the summer.  They had unlimited questions, and, of course, I had a full itinerary chock full of information that I wanted to share with them.  We maximized our time together, and they are super excited for the summer.  Randomly, one of the young men we hired is the cousin of a British counselor from 2019!  Also, from the UK, we have hired 3 additional staff members through other agencies that play various roles in Camp this summer like a returning Unit Leader, a returning Program Director, and a new camp care specialist.  We are excited to welcome our friends from the UK into our Kehilah.

After leaving London, I flew with many camp director colleagues to Tel Aviv to meet our Israeli mishlachat.  The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) hosted us in the Jerusalem Hills area for their annual Shlichim Training Seminar.  This is a multi-day conference that brings together Israeli summer staff with their camp representative to prepare for summer.  Most of the shlichim will be finished with army by the summer, and they are preparing for what’s next: travel, university, jobs, etc.  Camp is always a great way to spend the summer between their army service and what’s next.  The team at the Jewish agency offered us the option to spend our first day in Israel together on a solidarity mission to bear witness to the horror that October 7th brought to Israel.  While I was nervous to both visit the south and bear witness to the atrocities that I would see, it was important personally that I opted in.  Over 25 (mostly JCC) resident and day camp directors loaded a large bus and headed south.  Our journey began at Kibbutz Beeri, followed by a visit to the site of the Nova Music Festival, and it ended in Sderot to see the destroyed police station that was overtaken by Hamas and, lastly, a visit to the Resiliency Center in Sderot to give us a little bit of time to process our emotions from the day and to get a glimpse into the important and meaningful work they are doing at the Resiliency Center to support the mental health of the members of their community.  Since the purpose of this article isn’t necessarily to share this experience with you, I am happy to talk with anyone who is interested to learn more about our visit to the south; please reach out to set up time.  One of the questions they asked us at the resiliency center was to fill in the blank to this sentence: Right now, I feel ____.  I thought for a few minutes about my answer, and, with my partner, I shared that I feel lucky to have been able to visit the south.  We met several amazing people throughout the day who shared their stories and others with us. Through tears, I felt lucky to hug and embrace these brave survivors; in the same sentiment, they thanked us for visiting and supporting them.  As much as I have absorbed from news and social media outlets, I felt an immense sense of gratitude to have a multi-dimensional view into the things that I have only seen in photos and read in print.  I am devastated and horrified by the things that I witnessed, and I am now ready to welcome our Israeli delegation of both campers and staff to Camp this summer with more understanding than I would have had before visiting. 

Top Row – Coty, Iddo, Oren, Gal, Ido, Eitan. Botton Row – Amir & Toni

The next morning, our shlichim arrived, and it was a very exciting day to meet them, begin to get to know them, and orient them to our camps.  The seminar always begins with singing and dancing as a part of the opening plenary.  Tears filled my eyes watching these Israeli young adults who have been through so much, embrace the singing and Israeli dancing.  They laughed, smiled, danced, and sang their hearts out.  I am so grateful to the JAFI Camp community for bringing them such joy.  Our JAFI delegation of 7 connected with each other, asked a hundred questions, and are very excited to get to Camp.  One of our shlichim is returning for his second summer, and the others are new.  Our group consists of 5 cabin counselors, the sailing director, and a camp photographer.  I am very excited to give them the gift of spending their summer at Camp as well as to watch them build relationships and make impact. 

Ophir, Inbar, Toni, Romi, Talyah & Sonya

We moved to Tel Aviv when the seminar ended where JCUSA met us so that we can meet our Israeli delegation that we hired through their agency.  After a visit to Hostage Square, we checked in to our hotels and prepared to meet the group in the morning at Kibbutzim College.  I had the privilege of meeting with three (of the four) Israelis that we hired through JCUSA and the two British staff that were spending their year in Israel.  A JCUSA returning staff member also joined us.  We spent the day getting to know each other, sharing what they’re most excited about and what they’re most nervous about, answering their many questions, and preparing them for summer.  It was a great day, and I am grateful that the JCUSA team made it happen. 

It is so important to meet many of our international staff before they arrive; knowing that they have a familiar face waiting for them at Camp when they arrive is so helpful and reassuring to them.  Our delegation is amazing, and I am truly grateful for being afforded the opportunity to go on this trip.  While in London and Israel, I did get to fit in some alumni visits and cultural experiences that I am grateful for: visiting markets in London, a ride on the London Eye, visiting the Shuk in Tel Aviv on Friday afternoon, and people watching on the beach while eating ice cream from Golda’s.  This trip is one that will have a lasting impact on me, and I am grateful to the Jewish Agency for Israel and JCUSA for inviting and encouraging the directors to join, for continuing to support bringing international staff to our camps, and for planning well-run orientations.  I am looking forward to gathering with our amazing staff in the beginning of June to kick off our 59th summer.  ­­­