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An Unforgettable Trip and Unbreakable Connections

By: Carly Weinstock, Camp Director

Earlier this month, Becca Fishman, our Associate Director, and I traveled overseas to meet and begin training some of our international staff members in London and Israel. This summer we are lucky to have 162 international staff coming from around the world, including approximately 60 Israeli Shlichim (emissaries/staff).

We first met with 15 British staff members in a Jewish Day school in the suburbs of London. We spent the day running through workshops focused on inclusion, cultural differences, age expected behaviors of campers and answering their questions about what it is like working at Tamarack Camps.  This was an energetic group who can’t wait to spend their summer in Ortonville, Michigan getting to know our campers and meeting new staff friends. 

We then traveled to Israel. We landed in Tel Aviv and walked through the airport looking at signs of all the hostages. By now, most of the names were so familiar to us and our hearts remain so heavy. The first day, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) took a bus of camp directors from across North America to the south. We visited Kibbutz Be’eri, the Nova site and an old police station in Sderot – areas that were impacted by the October 7th attacks. At Kibbutz Be’eri, we received a tour from one of the educational leads for the kids from the kibbutz. He showed us how, while his house was thankfully unharmed, his next door neighbor’s home burnt down. At the Nova site, we heard from a shlichim from another camp who was at the festival but escaped and hid in avocado trees until he was rescued hours later. Like so many of our own shlichim, he loved working at an American summer camp, but is unsure whether he would return this year. As emotional as the day was for us, it was so important for us to be there to bear witness to these atrocities and to prepare for the few days meeting our shlichim, which gave us a tiny bit of insight as to what our campers and staff members might be dealing with this summer.  

The next few days we met with almost all our shlichim. They shared their excitement, nervousness and emotions with us about coming to Tamarack.  They had similar questions that our British staff had about what it means to work at Tamarack, but they also have a feeling of guilt for leaving Israel. They had questions about anti-semitism in the US and on college campuses. These are incredible people and we are lucky to have them join our camp family. The connections our staff have with our camp community is something special.  

It is more important than ever for us to have Israeli staff members at camp to not only develop these connections, but also give our staff who are struggling on campuses more confidence. Our hope is everyone will have a greater connection to Israel and that our Israelis feel the support they have in Michigan. We are excited that we will have an Israeli staff member in most villages and every program area at camp.   

In a few days, Lee Trepeck and I will be departing to go back to Israel to meet the approximately 150 participants of our Israeli Camper program and their parents. Like with my previous trip, I know this trip will have special meaning. I can’t imagine what these campers have been through in the last year, but I am eager to learn from them and put plans in place to support an unforgettable Jewish camping experience this summer.