Katyushas force camp closure on Shabbat

Campers at Ramah Noam, a summer camp for over 400 teens from the Noam youth movement at Givat Haviva, had an unscheduled activity added to their Shabbat afternoon routine: a rapid evacuation of the camp after Katyusha rockets hit nearby Hadera the previous night. The camp for youths aged 12-16 from across Israel, sponsored by the Masorti Movement and Shabbat observant, was supposed to end August 13, but was closed a week early. A parallel Ramah camp was supposed to be run for three days for campers ages nine through 11. Camp director Ze'ev Kainan decided to evacuate the camp when he heard that the rockets had hit neighboring Hadera, despite the fact that it was Shabbat. "Even though we are a camp with observant campers, we decided it was an issue of pikuah nefesh," explained Kainan, referring to a ruling that one should not endanger one's life to observe most commandments. Kainan consulted the camp rabbi and another rabbi, who both approved his decision to evacuate the camp. "There is no one who has not agreed with our decision," said Kainan. Despite the support for his decision to evacuate the camp, disappointing many of the youngsters but easing concerns of many worried parents, Kainan describes the decision as "definitely difficult to make." Once the decision was made, the campers were told to pack up their things immediately to return home. Specialty staff members were told to man the phones and call the campers' parents to inform them of their children's new plans. Kainan sent e-mails to parents to tell them to read the announcement at their synagogues. "It was the first time I have ever used a computer on Shabbat," noted Kainan, himself observant. At 1 p.m. on Saturday the camp held its closing ceremony, during which the prayer for the safety of Israel was recited. The campers were then sent home on buses that had been called. "The bus company owner and some of the bus drivers are observant but they came because they knew it was pikuah nefesh," said Kainan. Some campers from the North went to friends' houses instead of their own homes. Saturday was not the first day of problems for Camp Ramah Noam. Sirens were sounded in Givat Haviva three times on Friday: first at 2 p.m., before the beginning of Shabbat, and finally at 9 p.m., during Shabbat dinner. "The first time, the campers reacted more calmly because they didn't know what to expect. The second time they reacted more emotionally. But, overall, the campers were very well behaved," Kainan said. Camper Yaniv Rosenfeld-Cohen, 14, said he wasn't scared despite "the tables inside shaking" and hearing "loud booms" as the campers hustled into shelters in the middle of Shabbat dinner Friday night. They had undergone shelter drills, but the loud explosions only kilometers away scared many of the youngsters, he said, and some fainted. "I have received many letters of support from the parents applauding me on my decision," Kainan noted.