The Leo Baeck Education Center: A WRJ YES Fund Story

By Rabbi Oshrat Morag, Senior Rabbi of the Leo Baeck Education Center
October 14, 2022

The summer has ended—the sunscreen, hats, and beach towels are finding their way out of immediate sight; the popsicles are dwindling in numbers, and the new school year has begun. Rosh Hashana will arrive soon, and the new year will bring, along with the hope of health and happiness, an abundance of events, activities, and experiences for all that will make the summer season feel far from our daily lives of work, school schedules, boxed lunches, and parent-teacher conferences. For the staff and I, however, even in the middle of preparing ourselves for the holidays and the new year ahead, our thoughts stay with the summer that has just ended, our annual Arab Jewish Summer Camp, which concluded its 33rd year this past August.

When we imagine summer camp, a few images come to mind: sports, crafts, song, and dance – a time of freedom from school schedules, a time to swim, run, jump, and play. We know it’s a break from the daily routine, an opportunity to make new friends, and a place to grow and mature. It is often thought that children grow exponentially during summer months, or perhaps it is simply that all the growth that has taken place over the school year finally has time and space to express itself more openly and freely in the light of the warm summer sun.

This year, the Leo Baeck Arab Jewish Summer Camp gave children not only the time and space to flourish but an incredibly unique opportunity to unite with children unlike themselves and understand their differences through collaboration, play, and meaningful exchanges. The summer camp took place between August 14th- August 18th and was attended by 99 children, grades 2-6, from 27 schools in the Haifa area (13 Arab schools and 14 Jewish schools).

The children went to typical summer camp activities like movement workshops, clowning, capoeira, ball games, crafts, etc., special events included a “Joker Day” in the circus, a day of culture through music and food, a day of challenges in Acco Park, a bilingual performance at the Acco Theater, and a movie at Movieland Haifa. Through all of this and more, 99 Arab and Jewish children we able to put down shared roots, create friendships, and build tolerance that will change how Arabs and Jews see and understand one another for generations to come.

A unique aspect of our camp is that there is an equal mix of both Arab and Jewish campers and staff. Areen Awad and Danni Sosnowitz, our incredible camp managers, trained 12 counselors over two days at the Education Center, which included shared society training, group work, facilitation of play amongst these otherwise separate groups of children, and problem-solving. Areen and Danni also led all major aspects of the program, including licensing, program and activity coordination, and staff recruitment. I am personally grateful to our managers and counselors, who did a wonderful job and exhibited patience, creativity, attention, care, and responsibility, from the start of training to the end of camp. Our two camp guides, bilingual in Hebrew and Arabic, accompanied evenly mixed groups of 20 children throughout the week of activities, further helping them establish connections and friendships.

As Danni excitedly explained, “We have a very special opportunity to enable children to get to know other children and to nurture and discover new friendships.” Areen, herself a former camper and counselor at the camp, knows just how critical camp is for building independent thinking and acceptance of others: “I believe that through our activities, children will grow to learn and absorb mutual values.” At camp, these values are not only learned and absorbed through shared activities but through a unique lens of understanding every child who may look and speak differently is what builds a community. Danni continues, “I hope we have many more opportunities in the future to create a wide variety of activities like these for children, so they will get to know each other, as well as more chances for adults to create special joint communities of people who accept and respect one another, and even come to love one another.”

Rami, a veteran camper of three years, still enjoys making new friends each summer and participating in camp activities. Rami shared: “We are divided. We have to come together because we are always in war. We have to come in peace.” Despite how serious Rami seems to be about the issues driving the camp’s mission, he's still a kid, adding that “everything here [at the camp] is just really cool!” Echoing Rami’s reflections, camper Kineret, though also very young, absorbs the impact of the program, explaining that the camp is “helping us make peace and to live together so that we’re not having wars and terrible things.”

As we reflect on last summer and think about the next—the sunscreen, the beach towels, and popsicles, and now so much more—we feel a deep sense of gratitude knowing that we are, year after year, nurturing not only the physical and mental growth of hundreds of Jewish and Arab children, but that we are indeed – as our motto goes – planting hope in the minds of hundreds of young people and their families, and ensuring a different future for our society.  

WRJ has been partnering with Leo Baeck Haifa for many years. All members of the Arab Jewish Summer Camp, participants, counselors, directors, and other staff, including me, thank you for your significant and much appreciated support, and look forward to having you here at Leo Baeck Haifa.

 

Rabbi Oshrat Morag, Senior Rabbi of the Leo Baeck Education Center –ordained by the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion’s (HUC JIR) Jerusalem campus, Oshrat also has an M.A. (cum laude) in Biblical and Gender Studies. Oshrat previously served as a Rabbi in Cincinnati, Buenos Aires, and at Or Hadash (also in Haifa) and is a graduate of the prestigious Mandel Program for Social Leadership.

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