TORONTO — URJ Camp George is one of 14 Canadian summer camps – from Camp Hatikvah in British Columbia to Camp Kadimah in Nova Scotia – to use young emissaries as a way of educating campers about Israel.
This summer, Camp George has eight Israeli staff members who have completed their IDF service and are part of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s summer shlichim program. They are among 1,054 emissaries sent to North American camps as part of the 45-year-old program. Of the group, more than 50 young Israelis are at Canadian camps.
As well, Camp George has two Israeli staff members who have spent the past year in Toronto working at Leo Baeck Day School and two Reform congregations as part of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s shinshinim program. The program, which has a dozen shinshinim working at summer camps, derives its name from the first letters of the Hebrew words “Shnat Sherut,” denoting a year of service after high school.
Rabbi Noam Katz, Camp George’s supervisor of educational programming, said that ever since the camp started in 1999, there has been an Israeli delegation.
Israel education is part of the culture of the Reform movement camps, he said, adding that there’s no better opportunity than having young Israelis “bring Israel to life.”
The shlichim serve as counsellors and specialists, and lead formal programs about Israel including a “Yom Yisrael” (Israel Day), which they run with North American staff.
As well, Rabbi Katz added, informal conversations between campers and staff are part of the experience. “At its best, we create a space where they can have deep and nurturing relationships and friendships that extend beyond the summer.”
Stav Karmel, a 22-year-old shlichah from a Reform community in the Galilee, stressed the importance of the personal connections made at camp.
Karmel, whose father made aliyah from Vancouver at age 15, said that Israel doesn’t offer the same type of summer camp experience.
Niki Tarablus, 20, a native of Kfar Saba who is working at Camp George this summer, said she hopes campers will learn more about Israel and want to visit there as well.