For our 10 shlichim or mishlachat members (Israeli delegates), the journey along our “country roads” to Camp Tawonga was long, but well worth it. Months ago, they worked with the Jewish Agency for Israel to get matched with a Jewish summer camp to bring their Israeli life-experience and Jewish perspective to the States. Fast forward: a flight to San Francisco, a drive up to gorgeous Yosemite and a loving welcome from the Camp Tawonga community, and these new and returning mishlachat members have made Tawonga a second home.
For first-year shaliach Uri, coming to Camp was a much needed change of pace. A year and a half after finishing his service in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), Uri reflected on his army experience as an EMT and CPR instructor. He felt good about the work he was doing, he said, but it was heavy. “My purpose is to make people happy and just do stuff that is pure and good for them,” Uri said.
The shlichim met Itai, a returning shaliach, who got them excited for the job by explaining what Camp is like. “He told us about how you observe Judaism in a very different way than anything we knew was possible – through song and dance with everyone together,” Uri said.
Others signed up for Camp while serving in the IDF, like Yuval. He said that he always wanted to visit the U.S., and that summer camp would be a fun way to immerse himself in American culture. The shlichim all attended a seminar in Israel with a Tawonga representative, which gave them their own “taste of camp.”
Gal, a first-year shlicha whose older sister previously worked at Tawonga, said all the forms and interviews were well worth it.
“Some of my campers, especially in Session 4, have never met someone from Israel. I’m the first Israeli person that they’ve seen and spoken with. People get to put a name and a face to a country they have heard so much about.”
Most shlichim at Tawonga are bunk counselors, working directly with campers and fostering conversations around Judaism, culture and identity. A key tenet of the Camp Tawonga’s mission is to nurture a positive Jewish identity, something the mishlachat members both help facilitate and experience themselves. Some identify as Orthodox and others as secular, but they all are in agreement that Tawonga’s approach to Judaism is powerful and moving.
“It was really eye-opening to see that Judaism can be observed in a way that’s more about the values and less about the strict prayers,” Uri said. “I came here just to make a couple of kids happy, and it ended up being a journey where I got to know parts of myself I wasn’t in touch with before. I have learned a lot about myself and my relationship with Judaism.”
Each shaliach comes from a different walk of life in Israel, giving campers a variety of representations of Israeli life and culture. They are such an important part of the Tawonga community and a favorite component of many campers’ experiences. We are so lucky to have them!
Session 4 is drawing to a close, which means the summer is almost over – a very bittersweet realization. This two week session has blown by, and has been jam-packed with classic Camp experiences and plenty of fun under the sun. Each unit has now gone backpacking, with Eilat being our last to leave this morning. Meanwhile, bunks at Camp are exploring their spirituality, athleticism and craftiness every day. Whether making copper enamel at Arts & Crafts, playing “abandon ship” at the lake or learning about Jewish values at Ruach Hour – there is a healthy balance of all different types of programming. Campers will continue regular activities for the next few days, until end-of-session traditions – like Tawonga Carnival, Banquet Dinner and Closing Campfire – commence. Looking forward to savoring the last few days with this incredible group of campers!
Check out today’s Tawonga Tidbit!
Below, enjoy photos from the past few days at Camp