Israel and Camp – Zack’s Journey

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Israel & Camp – Zack’s Journey

Hi everyone! My name is Zack, and I went to Camp George for 10 years (6 as a camper and 4 as staff). I couldn’t imagine my life playing out any other way, and I am so happy that I spent so many years at camp with so many amazing people that I still call my closest friends to this day. Through growing up at camp and attending Jewish Day School, Israel always played a very big part in my life. Ever since coming to Israel in 2015 for my Bar Mitzvah, I knew I would always want to keep returning and connecting to this amazing country. In the Summer of 2022, alongside many other Georgies, I went on Birthright for the first time and then participated in a six-week Onward internship program with FJL. That experience was truly unforgettable. Being able to see so many parts of the country in such a short amount of time, and then getting the opportunity to live in Central Tel Aviv and live like a local is something I definitely do not take for granted and am very appreciative of. To this day, we all still talk about how incredible that summer was! Immediately after we came back from Israel, we went right to camp, and it was very interesting for us to see the connections between how camp has prepared us for this experience and so many other life experiences!

camp friends in israel

selfie in israel

After that summer, I knew that would not be the last time I did that kind of a trip, and I got a very interesting opportunity to staff a Special Needs Birthright Trip in June of 2023 with Yachad New York. That was also an incredible experience but very unique as there were a lot of times I had to solve conflicts on the fly that I did not anticipate having to. Camp was honestly excellent preparation for this kind of experience because at camp, through working with Kulam campers, and other campers who required more assistance, I was able to gain experience and skills on how to deal with very unique situations. When being a staff at camp, you think you know what your job will be every day, and then something happens, and you are forced to solve conflict left and right. Thinking back, there were so many times at camp, whether it was on the waterfront or at night in the cabin, that I completely did not foresee what would happen. When something like this happens, it’s always about how you respond, and I’m very happy that I was able to really practice and enhance these skills throughout my time at camp! 

When October 7th happened, it was something I don’t think anyone saw coming. Watching on social media the horrific events unfold, it was very hard for me to just watch everything and sit at home. Not long after October 7th, I started to witness anti-semitism all around the world, but I never thought that I would be personally impacted by it. When my professor in my own classroom justified the Hamas terror attacks, that really shocked me. I never thought that it would be me who gets to see anti-semitism with my own eyes, and it was very hard to be on a university campus that I knew did not support or look out for me. I felt very helpless and with everything going on, I knew that I needed to come back to Israel and give back to a country that has given me so much. About 2 weeks after October 7th, amidst all the antisemitism chaos, I emailed Masa (which is the largest organization in the world that offers subsidized programs to Israel) to see if they were going to have any trips and/or missions because of the war. The person I emailed immediately got back to me and told me that I am way too early and that there are no trips. Luckily, a few weeks later, Masa and Birthright started to launch their programs to help give back to Israel during this time. I first did a two week Birthright volunteer trip (side note Italy is one of the cheapest places to fly through to get to Israel from Toronto!!). Because the needs are always changing, the Birthright volunteer trips are all different, but the one I did was focused on agriculture. Every morning, we would wake up very early, and go to a farm about 30 minutes north of Tel Aviv. This was a farm that lost almost all of their workers because of the war, and it really felt amazing to actually physically help. It was honestly an amazing experience, and I truly met some incredible people. Because Birthright is only 2 weeks, and I knew that I wanted to stay a bit longer during this time, I am now on a six-week volunteer program with Masa based out of Tel Aviv! The program that I am currently on with Masa entails two days a week volunteering either in agriculture or sorting centers (depending on the need), and 3 days a week completing an internship. Currently, it is still early on in the program so things might change, but at the moment, I am interning with an organization that organizes volunteer initiatives for the City of Tel Aviv, and I might even get to do some SAR-EL missions (which is going to an army base and helping out).

farming in israel

lemon trees

As I mentioned earlier, because of all of the life skills, life experiences, and amazing people that I have met during my time at Camp George, I really don’t think I would be where I am today without camp. Now thinking about it, getting the opportunity to have as staff when I was a camper, and eventually getting to work alongside so many fun Israelis from the Mishlachat every summer has definitely impacted me for the better. I even bumped into an Israeli who worked at camp just the other day! The people you meet at camp are not like other people you meet, and those are bonds for a lifetime.

Also, as you can probably tell from this blog post, I have done (or am aware of) almost all of the Israel programs out there, and if you are considering doing a program and have any questions about how all of it works, feel free to reach out!

If you are current staff and want to apply to Onward: Register here

Written by: Zack Zaidener

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