By Aaron P. Taylor
I ran into Arie Gluck at Ben Gurion Airport last April as he was heading from one home to another, from Israel to the States with his family for the last time. Starstruck in the presence of a true giant, I chatted with his grandchildren, including a former camper from my summer as a counselor in Carmel Boys 1, before finding the courage to introduce myself….
My journey to Jerusalem, where I’ve been a long-term visitor for more than two years now, more or less began in Carmel, Sharon, Arava, and Galil. Speaking to the Harlam@60 alumni event in Israel last month, Camp Council member and current camp parent Dan Fuchs named each of his Israeli counselors as if he had just yesterday wrapped up a session as a Chavurah camper. I, too, remember looking up to Lior, Giora, Dan, Anat, Eyal, and others I met at Harlam. On staff, I befriended Israeli “co’s” who patiently fielded my attempts to throw around some broken Hebrew following a year I spent in Haifa before the summer of 2005.
Harlam’s Israeli recruits always struck me as both foreign and familiar at once — collarless t-shirts and enthusiasm for the stream hike; stumbling over prayers in their own language and revving Shabbat song session like they had grown up on “Sabbath Prayer.” I have memories of Israeli heroics — a counselor carrying Ben over his shoulder to the Mirpa’ah (Health Center) after a bad fall, comforting homesick Sarah by relating to how hard it is to be far away from home, or returning our slowest camper to the cabin by piggie-back, just in time before shmira caught all of us out “bunk-hopping.”
Catching up with dozens of Israeli camp alumni in Tel Aviv, the incredible power of the decades-old Harlam-Israel exchange came into focus. As much as Israeli staff offer a link to the unfolding story of the Jewish people in the “Holy Land,” camp draws its mishlachat (Israeli delegation) into one of the great innovations of a robust Jewish Diaspora. Israeli friends remind us not to take what’s precious for granted, even if it’s been ours since the age of eight or nine; camp inspires its Israelis to imagine Judaism as boundless and fundamentally inclusive, even if it too often appears otherwise within the context of a “Jewish state.”
The real challenges mounting both here and there call us to cultivate creative new models for leadership and community. Camp can be a dynamic laboratory of learning by doing, preparing campers and counselors, American Jews and Israelis, alumni, and all who call it home, to practice compassion, think critically about the status quo, and build welcoming communities wherever they spend the “off-season.”
…. Finally, just before boarding, I leaned over and thanked Arie in Hebrew, explaining how much I value my many summers spent at Harlam. As camp celebrates its 60th anniversary, I’m grateful for its heroes and that it forges Jewish connection across oceans, expands the way we think about the possible, and bestows lessons upon its alumni that we can apply towards the causes of our day-to-day lives.
Aaron P. Taylor was a Harlam camper from 1996-2001, on staff from 2004-2011 and believes that no job is more important than “cabin counselor.” He has been working in the non-profit sector in Israel/Palestine since 2015, most recently for Jindas: Urban Regeneration in Lod and Tiyul-Rihla, a bi-national Palestinian-Israeli educational tourism initiative. Aaron is working on an MA degree from Hebrew University, Jerusalem and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.