This post is a part of Foundation for Jewish Camp’s summer blog series “Because of Jewish Camp.” Each week, we will be featuring personal reflections from camp parents, staff, and alumni exemplifying the ways that Jewish camp impacted their lives. Follow along all summer long, and share how Jewish camp impacted your life! Tell us your story in the comments, on Facebook, or tweet @JewishCamp using the hashtag #JewishCamp.
An Israeli in Wisconsin
By Yoav Yaron
If you’d told me that one summer at a Jewish camp in Wisconsin would change my life, I wouldn’t have believed you. In the summer of 2014, however, that’s precisely what occurred. I’d been hired as a Shaliach at Camp Interlaken JCC in Eagle River, WI. As an Israeli, this would be my first real interaction with Diaspora Jews, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.
As soon as I arrived, the Jewish community in Eagle River embraced me as one of their own. Though I was far from home, so many different people showed me hospitality and kindness. I made so many amazing friends. It truly reminded me that the Jewish people are a global community.
I quickly learned that in the American Jewish community, there are diverse ways to celebrate your own Judaism. Unlike how I was raised in Israel, I was able to experience Judaism as a pluralistic religion with many different movements and customs. It was refreshing to see Jewish people interact with our shared faith in these various ways, and my interest lead me to explore and research more about the different denominations and traditions. I’ve gained a greater appreciation for and understanding of the unique experiences of American Jews.
I knew right away I’d return to camp. I’d fallen in love with it. It was incredibly rewarding to share my own experiences as an Israeli with American Jewish campers. I never could have anticipated the joy I would feel working with different age groups and facilitating activities about Judaism and Israel. In preparation for the 2015 summer, I had the privilege of participating in the Goodman Camping Initiative for Modern Israel History through the Foundation for Jewish Camp and the iCenter. I was thankful to develop tools that helped shape me into an effective teacher, counselor, and educator, truly allowing me to bring the best of myself to JCC Interlaken as their Goodman Israel Educator. Up until my first summer in the United States, I didn’t know much about my true passions, but at camp I suddenly knew what I wanted to do with my life: education. I’m now training to become a professional educator. If not for Jewish camp, I wouldn’t be on my current career path.
The two summers I spend in the US made me a better man, a better educator, and a better friend. I can honestly say that the friendships I made there are priceless. I became the person I am with the help of those two summers at Jewish camp. I found my passion, I grew, I matured, and I learned a lot. I had the privilege of becoming a member of the Jewish community of Wisconsin, and found a new home at Camp Interlaken JCC.
Yoav was able to work in the United States thanks to the J-1 Visa; currently, the future of the Visa hangs in the balance, specifically the Summer Camp Work Travel (SWT) and Camp Counselor visa programs. Click here to learn how you can take action to protect this program.
Yoav Yaron was born and raised in Neve Dekalim in Gush Katif. Yoav spent the summers of 2014 and 2015 at Camp Interlaken JCC in Wisconsin, and followed up that experience with the decision to become an educator and a certified guide at the Gush Katif Heritage Center in Nitzan. Currently, Yoav is completing his B.A. in Comparative Literature and Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as teacher certification training at the Kerem Institute.
The Goodman Initiative was made possible through the generous support of The Lillian and Larry Goodman Foundations, with contributions from the Marcus Foundation and the AVI CHAI Foundation. It was jointly run by the iCenter and FJC. The Israel @ Camp initiative, a collaboration of The iCenter, FJC, and The Jewish Agency for Israel, continues the much of the work that began in the Goodman Initiative.