Teenagers seem to flit in and out of the house during the summer vacation, often making it difficult to catch them for a conversation of any meaningful length. For my youngest daughter, soon to be a high-school senior, this is especially true, because amongst all her other activities she is also a counselor in a youth movement. Her charges are sixth graders going on seventh, and if she is with them throughout the year, she is with them even more so during the long summer vacation.

Last week she was in a three-day overnight camp. Summer camp in the US may be a few weeks at what is called "camp", but with sports fields, a lake or swimming pool, hot food, cabins equipped with running water for toilets and even hot showers – it's really a summer resort, with the counselors getting paid. In contrast: in Israel my daughter with her charges in their summer camp, slept on the ground in a forest preserve with cold showers, cold food and long hikes. It's a learning experience for the kids and an experience in taking responsibility for the counselors like my daughter, who are volunteers throughout the year and at camp.
No sooner had she returned home and she was out the door as a counselor in "the summer camp" that the town youth run every year. This six-day camp, which takes place in town and with normal facilities, is the crowning event of the summer for the youth. The campers are people with special needs, from Down syndrome to autism, with many shades and varieties in between. There are sixty campers, aged fifteen to sixty (seriously), seventy counselors, and another forty staff including alternate counselors, technical and logistical people. All are volunteers; all are under age nineteen, except for the two youth coordinators and the bus drivers when there's an outing.

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The camp starts every morning at seven and continues until seven in the evening, with staff meetings starting after the campers go to sleep. The activities are varied, from the routine meals and prayers, to the special fun activities: swimming at the town pool and a trip to the Tel Aviv amusement park. A small collection of animals is brought to the camp for the campers to pet, and the campers are taken to a nearby therapy-centered horse-ranch. All of this is done with the regular pep and craziness that camps have: songs, morale, and balloon show; an afternoon making huge soap bubbles and working with chocolate or making hats. On Shabbat (the Sabbath) the campers come to the central town synagogue and in the morning the entire town is invited to meet the campers and counselors after morning prayers.


Where does the money come from? The youth of the town raise the money: they work washing cars and cleaning houses, they go around the town begging for donations; they solicit businesses to advertise on the camp shirts, and sometimes some will play music in the center of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv with an overturned hat for a collection. It's the responsibility of the youth to get the money needed for the camp, to plan it and run it.

What do the campers get from it? They get fun, enjoyment, happiness and the chance to be the center of attention and some out-of-the-routine experiences. Their parents get a long needed vacation from worry. But the ones who get the most out of it: the counselors and staff. It's part of the learning experience that is so central a message that the entire town gives the youth: the lessons of taking responsibility and doing a kindness to others, without expecting anything in return. These summer camps are routine in many of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. It takes a family to raise a child, but it also takes a village to help that child grow into a responsible human being seeking to do good deeds of kindness.

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