Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Visiting Israel: A Visit to My Life Philosophy

A 65 year-old person today is not considered old, but I think we can agree that a 65 year-old country
is considered very young. Imagine a 65 year-old country, with roughly 7.5 million people living in it. Imagine a country barely the size of New Jersey. Imagine a country with people arriving in massive immigration waves from the most diverse cultures you can think of, including roughly 150,000 from Ethiopia and 1.5 million from the former Soviet Union, all in recent years. Imagine a young, tiny country trying to welcome all faiths and yet protect its roots. Imagine that country, a true melting pot, living in a difficult neighborhood with many extremists trying to wipe it off the map. Imagine a country where every home is required to have a shelter and all citizens their own gas masks, all the time. Imagine a country where you are sitting in your room and the background noise is from a neighbor country, the border just 1.5 mile away, fighting a bloody civil war. Imagine a country where each and every 18 year-old kid is required to serve in the army for several years. Imagine a young and tiny country in the middle of the desert. Imagine that country fighting for its right to exist in peace, and yet trying to preserve its vibrant democracy.

What kind of country do you imagine? If you’re like me, you imagine Israel, but you also know that it is so much more than what I just described.

I will tell you that in that country and with all that complexity, I had the best family vacation one could ask for! Whatever you imagined, here is what I saw. I saw the beauty and the narrative of a very young country still defining itself, as its own identity keeps evolving while confronting significant existential threats and complex social issues. I saw a country where people feel safe and know that life is valued and important. I saw a blossoming economy in the middle of the desert, where it is sometimes hard to know you are in the desert when you see the modern landscape around you. I saw a changing society that has its own challenges, but also a beautiful mosaic where the most diverse cultures interact and learn how to become one, building a unique blend, and learning painfully how to coexist with the good and the not so good - but always learning! I saw a country that makes the best out of its Army and young soldiers, which develops and grows the younger generations with strong values, education, innovation, and a hope for a better future. I saw people living fully every day. I saw a mezuzah in every grocery store, post office, and everywhere I turned, feeling at home. I saw the hub for many technologies that keep the entire world running, technologies which come from Israeli innovation and scientific advancements, created in the middle of the blossoming desert. I saw a country which continues to have its top universities and academic institutions ranked among the best in the world. I experienced art, culture, healthy democratic debates, and constant self-questioning of its political and judicial systems. I saw incredible beautiful sites and ate wonderful meals from around the world. I enjoyed some remote, wonderful restaurants in the Galilee, started by up-and-coming Israeli chefs, and even a growing Israeli winery in the Golan. I enjoyed the pleasure of the best Mediterranean beaches.  I heard the sounds of all religions, languages and music you can imagine. I experienced the sounds of the bombs in Syria while having coffee and the best water melon ever, at my cousin's home in a beautiful and peaceful Moshav in the Golan. I also heard directly from doctors how Israel is rescuing Syrian women and children and treating them in Israeli hospitals. I heard the struggles and needs of the people but also the understanding that many challenges are global and the hope and desperate cry for peace is a shared struggle.  I saw lots of growth and development regardless of all the challenges that young, tiny and complex country faces. I saw the choice to live in peace even if we are not there yet. I saw that life goes on in Israel!

And that’s when I finally understood where my personal and professional “make it a good one” philosophy comes from. I grew up belonging to a country, and today I belong to a community of people that always stands for the life every human being can and deserve to have. We choose to transform what we have, no matter how difficult it is, into a good one! We had slavery, we escaped. We had the tragedy of the Holocaust and we came from the ashes and re-built. We had wars and we kept going. We had terrorism and we didn’t settle. We have a desert and we make it blossom. Israel is young, imperfect as we all are, a very complex society...and yet the people in Israel choose every day to make it a good one.

My trip to Israel was a great vacation, fun and meaningful. But my trip to Israel also became a trip to understand where I come from and how far we can go when we transform what we have into what it can be.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Camp isn't Just for Campers Part 2: Saying Goodbye to Camp

First Day of Camp
My last last day of camp was approaching and tears welled up in my eyes every time I thought about saying goodbye to the part of my job that I’ve loved the most. What brought me to this moment? Several months ago, I resigned from my position as the Associate Executive Director at the Siegel JCC in Wilmington, DE. I had been with the agency for almost 12 years and I was ready for a change. Knowing that it would it be a a hard transition for everyone (including myself), I gave four months’ notice.

But as it turned out, the hard part was even harder than I had anticipated.

Part of my job this summer was to help our Interim Camp Director have a successful summer. “No problem” I smirked, as I thought to myself, "I’ll spend the summer outside at camp, play and have fun! I can do that." And that I did. But what I didn't realize was how hard my last, last day of camp would be. The reason I got into the Jewish Communal field was to be a Camp Director so the idea of never being part of camp again was truly the end of an era. In my role as the  Associate Executive Director of my JCC, I was never far from campers singing and cheering, and I could always take a break from what I was doing to go play outside.  This was fate though --  my last summer at the JCC --  and I got to do what I got into this field to do one last time.

As my last week approached,  I thought "what about this am I going to miss the most?" Here is my list:

10. Screaming “Boker Tov Camp!” to all of camp and, in unison, them screaming back “Boker Tov Donna!”

9. Watching a camper pass the deep water test on her last day of camp when she could barely swim on the first day of camp.

8. The amount of enthusiasm campers and counselors have for their team colors during the Maccabi Games.

7. Bringing Israelis to our camp and letting them show campers how amazing Israel is.

6. Watching a group of 11 year old boys not only accept but totally incorporate a boy with Down syndrome into their group.

5. Campers and counselors who will do anything to win the Ruach Stick for the week.

4. All of camp singing the Hatikvah

3. Watching scared campers cry on the first day of camp knowing that 8 weeks from now they will be crying on the last day of camp because they don't want it to end!

2. Hiring counselors who were your campers since Preschool and them being the most amazing staff.

1. Friday afternoon at Shabbat watching the whole camp saying the prayers over candles, wine, and challah and singing Bim Bom.

On Monday morning of my last week of camp, I declared to everyone that I was going to enjoy every moment and fully embrace the last week of camp craziness. In years past, the last week has always been so hectic and I often said "I don't have time to participate in (fill in the blank)".  But I was determined to make this year different as I knew there would not be another opportunity like this. Below is just a sampling of the fun that occurs at Camp JCC on the last week of camp.

Campers pay to Pie the Counselors in the face.  All proceeds go to our Camp Scholarship Fund.
We dig a Mud Pit for the Maccabi Games final relay
Shaving Cream Fight on the last day of camp: a Camp JCC tradition!


I'm a true believer in fate -- and this summer was fate.  Ok, well maybe I should thank Jeremy, the previous camp director who moved to Memphis to be the Program Director (thanks Jeremy!) but either way I can't imagine ending my 20 year career in the JCC field any other way.  

My new job as a consultant and a trainer will allow me to still be a part of camp by training staff and consulting on best practices but I'm not sure that will ever include getting into a Mud Pit or having a shaving cream fight.  But hey you never know!  Either way, I will always have my last, last week memories to hold onto.