Sam's Spiel: Israel, Judaism and Joy!

Posted by on April 17, 2013

After spending twelve days in Israel, I am once again reinvigorated and ready to start another summer of camp.  Israel is amazing; visiting helps me remember what I’m doing here on this earth, what my purpose in life is, and that there is a G-d.  The modern miracle of Israel is the modern miracle of our time.  It is a place where a Jew can feel totally at home and have a real feeling of belonging.  There is a common passion for being Jewish and everyone seems to live by the same cadence of life.  

For me personally, the culture feels so right.  Everyone works hard to help build their state and live productive lives, but at the same time they are chill.  They dress chill, they talk chill and they are generally nonjudgmental.  But when it’s time to kick some butt, they are so there.  Whether it be doing their reserve duty, getting to places on time, or just caring for family, Israelis are passionate. Their passion for life is infectious.  The sense of shared responsibility to serve and protect our people is powerfully heartwarming. Did I mention that I love being in Israel! 

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The food for a vegan is excellent.  There are always fresh salads and fruits and many vegan protein options. Did I mention that I love hummus!  Israelis love Teva, Art, Music and Sport, especially any type of water sport. It makes total sense to me that sports like Surfing, paddle boarding and Kite boarding are very popular in Israel.  They love extreme sports and they have the amazingly beautiful Mediterranean sea to play in. I feel so at home in Israel.

Professionally, through my work on the Chazon initiative I was able to see a side of Israel that helped shape my understanding of Israel’s place at Camp Solomon Schechter. Being proud of Israel is an essential part of being Jewish.  G-d has blessed us with Israel in our time and it is our time in the history of the Jewish people to continue to advance Israel as a light among nations. While in Israel, I spent five days traveling around with a group of camp directors learning about some of the exciting initiatives going on in Israel.  Israel truly is the “Start-Up Nation” (thanks Saul Singer!) and that makes Tel Aviv the place to be in the world if you are working on a startup.  (Ok, maybe it’s second after Silicon Valley...) The people of Israel have the exact right persona for creating startups.  Israelis are always trying to think of the next big thing, and how that thing can help the world?  They also are not afraid to fail, since most of them have been broke before, or have gone broke many times, they learn that it’s ok to try and fail.  That is an important attitude for one doing a start-up. One in five of their ideas fail and then they move onto the next great idea. Also, many of the start-ups include a social element.  Israelis love social networking sites and social marketing fits into the national psyche like a puzzle piece.  In Israel, it’s all about your network; who you know, who can get you the best deal, who can give you the best directions, etc.  

ShabbaTLV for example is a new inspiring start-up that tries to get secular Israelis from Tel Aviv to celebrate Shabbat a little bit.  To experience the joy of a Shabbat dinner is helpful for building a sense of belonging and purpose to living in Israel. Chaim Bialik, the famous Jewish poet of the early 1900’s, who lived in Tel Aviv, would have been so proud of this step; after all he created the term Oneg Shabbat for this purpose.  Guy Friedman is the young Israeli CEO of ShabbaTLV. Guy developed this concept after having been a Shaliach at another Jewish summer camp in California.  Guy was surprised to learn a lot about Judaism at camp, and now he wants to share his love of Judaism with secular Jews, which is no easy feat in Israel! 

Another new community based venture that we saw was Ayalim.  Ayalim builds affordable housing in remote and underprivileged areas of Israel.  They do this by attracting young people to come and live in these areas for two years free of charge,  in exchange for helping build up the community.  Picking up trash in these areas could be a full time job, but they also build play areas and gardens and club houses.  Residents work with the children of the community providing extra support and they do a ton of home improvement.  Also each of them is required to get together for the “big build projects”. They are building nice and affordable housing in the Negev and in the Galil.   60% of Israelis live in the center by Tel Aviv and so there is plenty of room for expansion within Israel’s borders.  Helping poor people gain a sense of pride and hope is the main mission of Ayalim. In Kiriat Shemona I saw people picking up garbage that they themselves had thrown from a fifth floor window months earlier. Change is happening in Israel.  The combination of start-ups and community service is a great new path for Israel.

The fact that the secular Israelis are searching for meaning and connection is no surprise.  The divide in Israel between the secular and religious is huge and it is not good for the country in my opinion.  Because religion and politics are mixed in Israel, the secular camp resents the enforcement of religious rules, and they resent that the ultra-orthodox don’t have to serve in the military. But with the impending new government, with its coalition of modern orthodox and secular, we may soon see the end of that unfair rule. Hopefully we will soon see more of a middle ground.

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Therefore Camp Solomon Schechter’s efforts to bring in Israeli campers each summer is a big mitzvah for both the Jewish people and for Israel. It helps us realize that we are all Jewish people, whether in the diaspora or in Israel.  All of us need to work together to serve G-d and humankind for the betterment of the world and the Jewish people.  At Schechter, our Israeli campers and staff are at first surprised by the level of religiousness, but then they are amazed by the ruach and joy.  They are usually knowledgeable about Tanach (bible) and Hebrew, but not the Tfillah (prayer.) They are often surprised that our prayers are sung and not spoken, that our Judaism is interpreted differently by different Jews throughout the Northwest, that women have the same rights and in some cases obligations to Jewish practices as men.  This eye opening experience allows our Israeli campers and staff to come back to Israel and help repair the giant chasm between the secular and the religious. It’s such a shame that the Ultra-Orthodox in power in Israel have created a one track system of Judaism, which has caused so many Israelis to leave the fold or to be resentful.  I am proud that Jewish summer camping can help young secular Israelis find their way back to a meaningful connection with Judaism, just as it did for Guy Friedman. 

Also, the presence of Israeli campers and staff at Schechter help camp reach one of its main goals; bringing a love of Israel to our American and Canadian campers.  As hard as we try to recreate Israel at camp, we are not successful.  The feeling is indescribable and impossible to recreate outside of the homeland—but we get a little closer each summer, with every Israeli we have.

This summer hopefully we will feel Israel even more.  Not just on Yom Y’srael, but every day and in everything we do.  The presence of Israelis at Schechter makes for the perfect environment for helping North American and Israeli kids connect. The Goodman initiative and Chazon Fellowships are certainly helping. Our connection to Israel is essential in becoming confident and proud Jews. Judaism and Israel are inseparably related when creating Jews that will have a connection to our people, land and language.   No matter what you’re political views are of Israel, its army, and its government (and we have the whole spectrum at camp) we at Schechter teach a love of eretz Y’srael; our modern day miracle!  For that reason we learn about Israel’s history, and we learn Hebrew, all so that we can be part of this amazing time in the history of the Jewish people.

I would like to acknowledge and thank my friends the Singer family (Itai –Madrich and Alex–Gimmel) for hosting me and feeding me while I was in Israel, saving camp a lot of money. They also hosted a successful camper meeting in Tel Aviv for us.  The Alon family (Ronny-Gimmel) from Zichron also hosted a camper event and finally the Margalit family from Ramat Gan hosted a donor event where I was able to explain the future vision and plans of camp.  Toda Raba!

Kol Hakavod to Camp Solomon Schechter! It’s going to be a very meaningful summer this year, one in which North Americans and Israelis will work together to create a kahela that deeply ingrains in our future leaders that Judaism, Israel and Joy are all One!

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Shalom CSS!

Sam Perlin

Executive Director, Camp Solomon Schechter