Sunday, August 17, 2008

Israeli Teens Volunteering in Seattle, Summer 2008

Although this blog is about my traveling in Israel, I'm going to write about five Israelis who traveled from Kiryat Malachi and Hof Ashkelon this summer to volunteer at Jewish day camps in the Seattle area for 6 weeks, through the TIPS partnership, a program that the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle participates in. This is at least the fifth consecutive year that teens from there have come to Seattle to add a bit of Israel to local camps. Usually youth ages 17 and 18 come, but because of the teachers' strike in Israel this year, matriculation exams were pushed back to mid July and the older youth could not come, so four 16-year-olds came. They were young but extremely enthusiastic, and with advance planning in Seattle and Israel, they have been able to add a lot more about Israel than in the past, and the camp directors have been thrilled.

Mor, Or, Livnat, Yuval, and Tal

Mor and Livnat are from Kiryat Malachi. Yuval, Or, and Tal live in Hof Ashkelon. Yuval lives on Kibbutz Zikim. I've already written about our visit to his kibbutz. Or lives on Moshav Kohav Michael, a flourishing community about 5 miles north of Sderot, with many members who immigrated from Argentina in the 1960s. Tal is the chaperone, a university graduate from Moshav Gea. The four sixteen-year-olds were picked from about three-dozen that applied, and we have been delighted to have them in town.

The five have been housed in the area with a total of eleven host families during their six weeks here. Two spent three days at the new camp run by the Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle and Temple B'nai Torah. The last day, they ran a three-hour pre-army "Gadna" session, which was the highlight of the campers' week. They five have mainly been at the Strom JCC, with youth from ages 6 to 12, Monday through Friday from 9 to 4. In addition to helping a counselor with a group of campers, for the first time, they led "hugim" Monday through Thursday on Israeli and Jewish topics from 1 to 2 p.m. Each day for a week, they present the same topic to a different group of youth. Topics they have covered include holidays, Jewish and Israeli symbols, food, and Israeli children songs and games. (See a separate entry about the hugim.)

At the end of the first three-week session, they created and directed IsraeLand at the JCC on Friday afternoon from 1 to 3:15 pm. It was a huge success. 250 youth at the JCC day camp from ages 6 to 13 learned about Israel in a very festive atmosphere as they rotated through eleven stations depicting different geographic parts of Israel and different activities. To begin with, they all saw a short multi-media presentation on Israel. Then they all went outside on the lawn to start their Israel experience.

In Jerusalem, they learned about the importance of the kotel, wrote their own notes and put them in the "wall." All the notes will be taken to Jerusalem when the Israeli counselors return to Israel the end of August.

At the kibbutz, the campers learned how to milk cows by hand. That booth was run by Yuval who lives on Kibbutz Zikim, which has a successful dairy herd. He told the youth that he has milked cows, but only using machines.

At Geva, the kids learned Israeli dancing and improv in the middle of the dance circle.

Gadna (Pre-army training) was rigorous and a favorite of many of the campers.

Campers answered trivia questions at the Haifa booth and were rewarded with candy for correct answers.

In Teveria, youth learned the importance of saving water. Then they ran with wet sponges from one bucket to another, trying not to drop any water on the way.

In the Negev, they stopped at the Dead Sea and heard the Biblical story of Sodom and Gemorrah, where Lot's wife turned into salt. Then they made salt pictures to take home.

In Eilat, they went fishing for prizes (stars of David) in the Red Sea (actually the pool). This station turned out to be trickier than the planners had thought.

In Netanya, youth took park in Maccabi Games. Quick reflexes and quick thinking were the keep to this station.

Under a Beduin tent, campers listened to stories that Beduin children also hear.

Finally, in Tel Aviv, they went to a typical Israeli restaurant, where they ate pita with hummus and Israeli salad.

When one 4th grader was asked what his favorite part of the day was, he said that it was a tie between the Gadna training and the Beduin stories.

Although there was competition from the Blue Angels as they flew overhead, the campers stayed focused.

As the day wound down, all 250 campers went back to the auditorium to hear a story about Shabbat by Rabbi James Mirel of Temple B'nai Torah.

A brief staff meeting following the clean up. Zach Duitch, the camp director told all how great the afternoon had been and appreciated the participation of all, especially the 5 planners.

In addition to all their hard work, they have had fun and seen a bit of the area. Four Jewish teens from Hungary are also at the JCC this summer, and the 8 youths have become friends. Places they have visited include Mt Rainier, Snoqualmie Falls, and the historic Pike Place Market. They four also went on a personal tour of Microsoft, visited the Museum of Flight, and two went on a tour of the Boeing Airplane plant in Everett. They rode on a ferry in Puget Sound, attended an annual Japanese festival, swam in pools and Lake Washington, and, of course, shopped! And best of all, they have shared a lot of themselves and made friends that will last a lifetime.

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