By Rabbi Jordan Millstein, Temple Sinai of Bergen County
I am so sorry for your loss. All of Camp Harlam is keeping you in our thoughts and in our prayers. We know that your brother must have been very brave fighting for Israel. We hope that you and your family are safe.
Rachel (your camper in Kineret Girls 1 – 2010)
Hi. I’m Sophia from Kineret 2010. I guess you don’t remember me, but I remember you. I just wanted to say I’m so sorry about your brother. I know that not much I can say can help, but I’ll be praying for you and your family. I’ll always have such happy memories of you from Kineret and I hope that over time this will become less painful until you are left just with happy memories of your brother. Keeping you in my thoughts.
Dear Ben, Rachel and Adam,
We just wanted to start by saying that what you are all doing for Israel is extremely inspiring and brave. The fact that you were once sitting where we are currently sitting is incredible. Your courage is something that we, and many others here, look up to. Serving in the IDF is something to be very proud of and we can definitely say that everyone at Camp Harlam is very proud of you. Always know that this community is here to support you in whatever you need. We are all extremely grateful for the protection you are giving Israel. Stay safe!
Brook and Leah (Chavurah 2014)
The above letters were among dozens written by Chavurah campers during one of a series of programs we have run during the first two weeks of camp focused on the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The “Noa” to whom our kids sent letters is Noa Barak, a former bunk counselor and member of the Israeli “Mishlachat,” (Emissary Group) at Camp Harlam in 2010. Her brother, Eitan, was the first IDF casualty of Operation Protective Edge. When we shared the news about Noa’s brother’s passing many of the campers in Chavurah remembered Noa from when she was a Kineret unit counselor and they were Kineret campers. They wanted to offer condolences to her.
Other Chavurah campers were moved when they learned that 3 recent former American-born Harlam campers were now in the IDF, having made aliyah. They looked and found the names of these IDF soldiers scrawled on the walls of the barn in the Chavurah Village and on the plaques that each year’s unit makes to record their names for posterity. This brought their connection to Israel and the current conflict even closer to home.
Still other Chavurah campers worked together in small groups to paint interpretive versions of the Israeli flag, each one expressing in some way the meaning of one of the paragraphs of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
The lion’s share of the credit for these programs about Israel belongs to Lior Olinick, the Rosh Mishlachat. He and the other Israeli Mishlachat members have been deeply committed to teaching campers and staff about the conflict and to building deeper relationships between Israeli and American members of the Harlam community.
Members of the Mishlachat shared their feelings about the war with Chavurah campers in a very moving program early in the second session. A few days later the members of the Mishlachat and other staff members came together to dialogue about the war. The staff broke into small groups, each with a Mishlachat member, to share their feelings and personal stories. Almost all of the Mishlachat members are just out of the IDF and worry about their families back home and friends serving in the IDF. Lior shared the following:
…My cousin is now 8 years old…. her mom posted on Facebook a letter she sent to support our soldiers who are protecting our homeland. I couldn’t stop crying when I saw the letter and picture she drew. It broke my heart to know that she spent her summer vacation looking for shelter from missile strikes, and still spent the time to write a letter and draw a picture for the soldiers to show them she cares about them….
A child her age – no matter if they are an Israeli child or a Palestinian child – should not worry about their life. They should not know about the existence of soldiers, should not know what a tank looks like and how a missiles attack alarm sounds.
No, Lior, they shouldn’t. I pray as you do for an end to terror, an end to bloodshed, for a secure and lasting peace.
At the same time, Lior’s cousin’s story made me realize just how lucky I am to have my younger daughter, Sarah, at Camp Harlam (my older daughter, Eve, is a former Harlam camper) where she is not only safe and having the time of her life, but living in a community that teaches the value of “Ahavat Yisrael,” “Love of Israel.” Camp Harlam is where Sarah and thousands of others have learned to be part of a Jewish community, locally and globally. It is where Judaism, the Jewish People and Israel have naturally and seamlessly become central to their identities.
Many thanks to Aaron Selkow and Lisa David for allowing me and my wife, Rabbi Paula Feldstein, to serve on the camp faculty for this our sixth summer. In these challenging times for our people it has truly been a gift.