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Mensch of the Month: Israeli Camper Program Host Families

Congratulations to our Mensches of the Month, our committed Israeli Camper Program (ICP) Host Families! This summer, with the support of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit (JFMD), 32 families opened their homes to host 62 Israeli campers from our Partnership Region. Because of the support of these dedicated families, our community’s bond to Israel was strengthened, and our Michigan mishpacha grew!

Read more from Shayna Levine, camper parent and ICP Co-Chair (along with Michelle Wolfe), about her positive experience and its meaningful impact on her family below:

I am a huge fan and so proud to be part of the Israeli Camper Program – the largest in North America! The history of this program is remarkable and such a reflection of the miracles that the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit can pull off in our community. 
In 2002, during the Second Intifada, Detroit leaders had an extraordinary idea to support families in our Partnership Region. They brought 300 Israeli teens out of the violence and to the incredible summer programming offered by Tamarack Camps. I still have a hard time understanding how they made this happen. The beautiful connection between our Partnership Region and Tamarack began during this moment and has been going strong ever since! I visited a high school in our Partnership Region this past December and was asked by some kids: “Where are you from?” I replied, “Michigan” – no response. Then “Detroit” – no response. Finally, “Tamarack” – gigantic smiles and overwhelming excitement. They all know Tamarack! 
It was an absolute honor for me to co-chair this program this year along with my friend, Michelle Wolfe. This program is truly a gift to the Israeli campers, and it is equally a gift to the American campers and the host families. I have enjoyed watching all three of my girls form close friendships with ICP campers over the years. Marni couldn’t wait to visit her Israeli friends last December during our family mission, where they were reunited like the best of friends. Cailey and Mia connected with their ICP campers both before camp and have continued chatting on WhatsApp since the day the campers returned from Israel last week. I don’t think there was a single camp photo of them from this summer that didn’t include an ICP camper. I have no doubt there will be many reunions in the future!
Since being part of ICP in 2019, the biggest surprise for me has been the connections that we, as host families, form with our campers. It seems difficult to imagine developing a bond with someone you are with for only a day and a half. The truth is that this relationship began much earlier. As an “ICP Mom” this past summer, I couldn’t wait to welcome Mirel and Elena before camp, send letters back and forth throughout the summer, chat with their parents, and dig through camp photos searching for them as I did my own. The feedback I received from other host families mirrored my own experience. We felt instant connections with these Israeli teens, found they have so much in common with our kids, shared true joy from their new experiences (like Starbucks, of course!), and cried together during our goodbyes at the bus.
I am so lucky to have another year as a co-chair working with Allison Gutman (Federation’s Senior Program Associate, Israel & Overseas) and our team to help provide the environment for these special connections to form with the next group of Israeli teens, American campers, and host families.

–Shayna Levine, Co-Chair of the Israeli Camper Program