Physically Distant, Emotionally Close

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I sat down on a log around the campfire at the point of Camp George. I listened to North American folk songs and classic Hebrew chants. Surrounded by the whole camp community – from young mini menchers to faculty, we sang together and spoke of kindness and community. I’ve never had such a strong feeling of home, while being so far away.

After spending a wonderful year living abroad as part of the GTA Shinshinim through the coldest February ever recorded in Toronto, I came to camp completely clueless. Will I fit in? Will I be comfortable in this new place? Will the campers of different ages and backgrounds be interested in learning about Israeli culture?

The Shinshinim had just said goodbye to our host families and the day schools and shuls we had worked at all year long. We then boarded a bus in the Temple Sinai parking lot that led us into the unknown.

The summer grew to be challenging and rewarding. There are some memories which I will always cherish, such as: my first time attending a service in the outdoor chapel, my first time playing guitar at super spesh song sesh, amazing days off kayaking and going to Parry Sound, Maccabiah, CG games and Yom Israel, and even counselors and campers playing cards together on a rainy day inside a warm-hearted cabin. It was sometimes challenging to engage campers about Israel when water skiing and bikes competed for their attention. Yet, the opportunities for engagement came when I least expected them.

During one of the nights I had in the cabin as a Barak counselor (B5!), some of the boys asked me about my life in Israel and my next step – the army. The conversation moved towards my experience living in an Israeli – Arab mixed city, growing up through the second Lebanon war, and how it’s even possible that everything is closed on Saturdays. I was able to share my life story and have these young Canadian brothers listening attentively and asking questions. I listened back about their Jewish identity and learned from them too.

Several years have passed since that first summer in 2015. These young Canadian brothers and sisters of mine have grown up and started going to university (even before me!). I lost touch with some of the Camp George people in my life. However, my experience at camp for one summer had impacted me so greatly that I decided to return this summer as the Rosh Anaf Adventure. The week my position was announced, I suddenly felt my relationships, memories, and connection to camp ignite again. Even though camp was cancelled this summer, I stayed involved by helping run virtual programming about Israel for this community which I care so deeply about.

I have heard about the impact on the camp community the Israeli’s have coming to camp as unofficial ambassadors. I don’t hear about how the experience has had an everlasting impression on us – and for that we thank you. We may be far away, but we feel close to you in our hearts.

“If you are Atem, then we’re N’tzavim. We stand here today and remember the dream.”

-D. Nichols.

Written by Aviv Naftali