Some of our camp counselors have an admittedly long commute, but none quite as far as the three shlichim (Hebrew for emissaries) who traveled 12,000 miles to teach at J-Camp this summer.
J-Camp has been hosting shlichim for eight years, and according to Youth & Teen Director Dave Rosenfeld, the roles international staff play as counselors and specialists “bring flair and charm to camp, as well as a feeling of global connection.”
Dave adds, “The staff and children have a blast learning about the similarities and differences between their own lifestyles and cultures and those of the international staff. On top of that, the shlichim help our kids feel very connected to Israeli life and culture and, in some cases, encourages a deeper exploration of their Judaism.
This is Hof Sella’s second year at J-Camp; she was a music specialist last year and again this year. “I’m so excited to see some of the same kids back again,” she exclaims. “I hope they remember me!”
Back in Israel, Hof is a professional flautist who recently finished her stint in the IDF and will begin her studies in music education at Levinsky University in Tel Aviv in the fall.
Hof had a great time teaching at J-Camp last year. “I feel like this is my family, and I’ve returned home.” She really enjoyed being exposed to American culture last summer, and did her best to return the favor. “I hope I brought something new to the Jewish community here on campus. I enjoyed getting close to the kids, helping make them feel connected to who they are and educating them.”
Some of her most memorable experiences last year occurred when she encountered Hebrew-speaking campers who were uncomfortable speaking English. “It was hard for some of them to fit in at first, so it meant a lot to have a counselor who speaks Hebrew. I worked to help them feel more connected to the English-speaking kids, to make friends and to improve their communication. Some of the English-speaking kids would see me hanging out with these kids and think, ‘Hey, I should get to know them, too.’ ”
“I got emails from parents afterwards who said I had made a difference to their kids – that’s something that stayed with me.”
Twenty-one-year-old Gal Tayer has always enjoyed being outdoors and working with kids. In Israel, she was part of the scouting organization Tzofim for many years and was recently a counselor at a boarding school. Her love of working with children and teens, coupled with her passion for the outdoors, led her to J-Camp.
“A friend from the army spent a summer as a counselor at another American JCC,” Gal explains, and highly recommended the experience. “I am looking forward all of these new experiences, and to gaining an understanding of the Jewish community in America.”
She hopes the summer will bring many opportunities to experience the outdoors – hiking, camping and adventuring – with her teenage charges.
Shai Atanelov also has friends in Israel who had served as international camp counselors through the Jewish Agency for Israel, and their experiences influenced him to make the journey to the OFJCC this summer. He’s very excited for all the new experiences he’ll have living and working here.
“I loved being a counselor at Israeli summer camps and thought this would be a great opportunity to experience American culture in an immersive way, meet new people and make a real difference with kids,” he explains.
Shai says he was made to feel part of the OFJCC community right away. “Everyone has been very interested and friendly, wanting to get to know me. The J-camp staff and my host family have been equal parts of this incredible experience – they’ve welcomed me and made me feel very at home.”
As for the campers, Shai can’t wait to return the favor and welcome them here. “When the kids come to J-Camp,” he says, “I hope they arrive with a smile and leave with a bigger one every day.
“I want to help the campers have a great summer, so they will remember J-Camp fondly and want to return year after year.”
J-Camp Director Rebecca Labate is a big fan of all three shlichim. “The international counselors bring the special dash of a different culture to J-Camp; they’re instant ‘celebrities’ with the kids.
“These have been some of our most well-loved counselors, people the kids remember year after year,” she adds. “I hope the experience of having Israeli counselors helps inspire their Jewish journeys.”
Read more about the experience of one of the OFJCC’s 2015 shlichim here.