Cultural Exchange Program “Israel Up Close” to Enhance JCC Summer Camp

halle and tamar shlicha

With the start of camp little more than a month away, JCC Director of Camping and Youth Programs Halle Schwartz is excited to introduce campers to Tamar Lavi, who will be joining Camps Chaverim and Ora this summer as Camp Shlicha. As Shlicha, Tamar will help make this summer’s JCC camp theme, “Around Israel in 8 Weeks,” that much more meaningful, as she leads campers in Israel cultural programming and Hebrew language instruction and immersion.

Halle was one of only 10 camp directors nationwide to be awarded the opportunity to travel to Israel and improve JCC camp ties to Israel and the Israeli experience. Halle met Tamar through the JAFI-sponsored program, Israel Up Close. “It was an amazing program. It’s made such a difference. People talk about life-changing experiences. For me, this was truly a camp-changing experience,” said Halle.

While staying in Zikaron Yaakov near Gilat, Halle got to know Tamar and her fellow Shlichim who will travel to JCC camps across the U.S. this summer. During the five-day trip designed to acquaint and prepare Shlichim for their experience in the U.S., Halle got a head start on the cultural exchange campers can expect to enjoy beginning in June.

“Our shlicha is coming here to share her story and perspective,” Halle explained. “I’m looking forward to sharing our city and culture with her as much as she is excited to share with us. I’m excited for her to come and bring Israel to our community!”

Tamar, who lives in the small town of Kadime, near Tel Aviv, recently finished a two-year commitment in the Israeli Defense Forces. “I am very excited and waiting for this summer. I want to come because I love kids, and also it’s interesting to me to see Jewish community around the world,” Tamar wrote in a recent email.

Tamar will help enrich JCC campers understanding of Israel, bringing the vibrant country to life in many ways, ranging from campers experiencing a fishing trip in the “Kineret” and kayaking in the pool, to making spices at the shuq (or market), to nature hike adventures, all while speaking in Hebrew. As in past years, campers will explore the concept of the Western Wall, but Halle plans a more in-depth exploration that will join the strengths of both Tamar, as Hebrew and Israeli culture specialist, with those of the Judaics specialist on staff this summer.

Jewish Community Center Association started the Israel Up Close program three years ago to enhance the exchange experience for both the campers and the young adults from Israel. While in Israel, Halle and Tamar joined over 800 Shlichim and JCC camp leadership to explore new and exciting ways to bring Israel into the JCC summer camp experience. “We did a lot of reflection. There was a lot of educating on cultural differences. It was helpful because I learned what their expectations are and how to help them, and communicate what my expectations are,” said Halle.

Halle looks forward to incorporating some new elements at camp this year, including a Havdalah service to welcome the start of the week each Monday, a Hebrew word of the day, Israeli dance parties, a greater emphasis on Hebrew letters and the history of Israel. “Israel Up Close will enhance every aspect of camp this year. Our JCC is very fortunate. We have strong personal connections to Judaism here. And we make it such a priority here, which I’m so happy about. I made such great connections while there, too,” Halle added.

Halle can’t wait to introduce Tamar to Ora and Chaverim campers, while campers at Camp Hoover will spend their summer with year-round shlicha Lihi Shmuely from the Jewish Federation of Columbus. To learn more about all that the JCC summer camps have to offer and sign up your child for a summer spent with either of these wonderful Shlichim, contact Halle Schwartz at hschwartz@columbusjcc.org or call 614-559-6279.