The day I arrived at URJ Crane Lake Camp at the end of July was the day that the faculty had began to discuss how we were going to talk to campers about the current tumultuous situation in Israel. In the weeks leading up to my arrival, Hamas had kidnapped three Israeli and murdered them; a group of fringe Israeli extremists brutally murdered an Arab boy as a reprisal; Israel and Hamas-governed Gaza traded rocket fire; Hamas attempted to attack Israel through an extensive network of terror tunnels; Israel sent ground troops into Gaza; and the death toll on both sides was climbing rapidly. Crane Lake Campers-- isolated from news, social media, and television—were in the dark. At the same time, Israeli counselors frequently checked the news and social media to learn about new developments, and to check the names of those injured and killed for their friends, family, and military comrades. The tension and stress among the faculty and many of the staff was palpable, but campers weren’t sure why.
The faculty spent hours upon hours working with the Israeli Mishlachat (emissaries) discussing and sometimes arguing over how we were going to share and explain the current crisis in Israel. Israel conversations can become heated. Our emotions and our own political leanings can cloud our pedagogy. And the more people in the room, the more complicated a sensitive discussion can become. Our team was drawn between teaching for advocacy and creating a space for open and safe conversations about Israel. What united us, and what eventually emerged as the driving force of our programming was ahavat Yisrael, a love for Israel.
For our older campers, we assembled a timeline of news clips from different media sources that reported on events beginning with the kidnappings, and going through the ground incursion into Gaza. We created a safe space for campers to ask questions and voice their opinions and concerns. Our Israeli Mishlachat (emissaries) shared their stories, often with a great deal of passion and emotion. Our rabbis, cantors, and educators, led the campers in prayers of peace. Most importantly, we worked to infuse our community with a love for Israel-- its culture, its people, its history, its land, and its government.
As we expected, our campers responded with a range of questions and attitudes. We heard questions like: “What is Hamas’s goal?,” “What is the difference between Hamas and Palestinians?,” “Where is Gaza?,” “Why doesn’t Israel just destroy Gaza?,” and “What can we do to be supportive and help?” Opinions ranged from “I don’t agree with Israel’s response,” to “Israel needs to defend herself, and invading Gaza seems like the only way.” People listened to each other and they listened to the faculty. Most importantly though, when our Israeli Mishlachat shared how afraid and stressed they felt, our campers were quick to empathetically listen, and follow up with supportive hugs.