Words for the Wise – A Shabbat Message from Rabbi Dan Utley

Shabbat shalom to all! We’re officially in week six of summer, 2022! In a week where our staff and campers could have been feeling most tired, we were instead lifted up in energy and spirit by the return of our 11th grade Israel Leadership Seminar participants. Throughout their trip we kept hearing from parents who said, “in the pictures, my child has the biggest smile I’ve seen on their face since 2019, they must be having the time of their life!” This statement could not have been more accurate.

I was able to sit down with the 39 ILS campers on Tuesday night to review their experience, hear feedback on the trip itinerary, and chat about next year’s Staff-In-Training (SIT) program. We began by asking the big picture question of our teens: Why include an Israel experience in our overall camp program? Our teens’ answers forced me to stop and pay attention to their transformative moments:

  • “ILS was the most meaningful Jewish experience of my life…”
  • “For the first time I felt deeply connected to Judaism, the Jewish People and my camp community all at the same time…”
  • “Being in Israel caused me to think about who I am and where I come from as a Jew…”
  • “I learned so much about Jewish history, and I was treated as a critical thinker…”
  • “This was my first time on a trip alone with friends – I feel so much more confident…”

During the Israel Leadership Seminar our teens traveled to the major regions of Israel – the north including Haifa, Bet She’an and Tsfat, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, The Dead Sea and the Negev desert. They learned about Israel from Israeli peers during our partnership Mifgash (encounter), from skilled educators, and from many tours and sites that highlight the current geopolitical situation. Perhaps the best learning came from our P2G hosts at the kibbutzim in Bet She’an who hosted our campers for Shabbat in their homes. We’re grateful for the support of our friends in Bet She’an and for the Cleveland Jewish Federation P2G program! Relationships our our best places of learning.

In our feedback session, the teens reflected on how much they appreciated learning about Israel on the ground – and how they now feel empowered to speak with their peers about the news out of Israel, about social justice and religious freedom issues like Women of the Wall, and about their evolving perspectives on Middle East peace and the Palestinian situation. To balance what could potentially feel like heavy and serious topics, our teens also returned home having played, swam, and hiked throughout our beautiful holy land, too!

Over the last four Shabbatot, Israel has reverberated with he voices of our Camp Wise ILS, shouting the spirit circle, reading Shel Silverstein Poems, and singing our Kabbalat Shabbat prayers. This week in camp, we celebrate their safe travels and begin to share their experiences with the next generations of Camp Wise campers and Israel travelers!

Next year, Camp Wise ILS will tentatively run from June 16-July 20, 2023. We’re so excited to help our current 10th graders learn about this experience and to empower our ILS teens to share how Israel has transformed them with other campers, with their families, and with their peers in Cleveland and beyond as we go through this year.

Shabbat shalom!

Rabbi Dan