How Tawonga Campers Connect to Israel
By: Sam Quintana
As I was waiting to board my plane to Tel Aviv, I noticed a few dozen Orthodox Jewish men wearing black hats, sporting long beards and peyos, all davening in the Heathrow terminal and facing Jerusalem. In this moment, the words from Tawonga’s closing campfires spoken by our Camp Director, Becca Meyer, echoed in my head: “At Camp Tawonga, we don’t just tolerate differences – we celebrate them.”
Tawonga is a place where kids learn to work together to form a cooperative community, valuing and cherishing each of their bunkmates’ unique backgrounds, perspectives and personalities. Our hope is that they take those feelings of welcoming inclusion and broader insight home with them after the session ends, open to meeting new people and to gaining new experiences.
Enter the Israeli delegation of Tawonga staff members. Each year, through our collaboration with The Jewish Agency for Israel, a group of around 10 Israelis come to Camp Tawonga to work as counselors and specialists, providing intentional and age-appropriate programming on Israel, and forming authentic and personal connections with their campers. This cross-cultural experience is a unique and invaluable way to help foster connections across what we refer to as our global Jewish family. Through these interactions, campers are exposed to a land and community they may have only heard about before, but can now connect to on a deeper, personal level through shared experiences with their “super cool” Israeli counselor.
I had the immense pleasure of traveling to Israel last month to meet and orient our 2017 summer shlichim, or emissaries, along with dozens of camp directors from all over North America. I was instantly blown away by this group’s enthusiasm, excitement and positive attitude. They are all STOKED to come to Camp, to step out of their comfort zone and to impact the lives of children.
Two of the Israelis in the group were, in fact, campers at Tawonga when they were teenagers and spoke longingly about the experience they had when they were kids at Camp. They can’t wait to give back to the community. During our closing session, one former Israeli Tawonga camper and schlichim member, Noam Raychental, was brought to tears sharing how incredible this community is and how great an impact they’ll have on their campers. Moments later, Noam and I realized that we have been friends since we were Counselors-In-Training in 2007, 10 years ago.
How special it is that at Camp Tawonga, we don’t just tolerate differences, but celebrate them! Where individuals can come to Camp from the other side of the world and open up minds and hearts to people and places we would never have known without their presence. Where building community happens on the bunk, unit, camp and global level – and where the connections made last a lifetime.
For more on Tawonga’s dedicated and diverse summer staff, read this international staff spotlight from last summer.