Building Connections to Israel at Camp Shelanu
by Madeline Seltman
Connection to Israel
At Camp Shelanu, our connection to Israel reaches over 400 diverse children. Some of our campers have parents from Israel or have been to Israel. Some have learned about Israel in day school or Hebrew school. About half of them are not Jewish and come with no experience about Israel, meaning we are building allies from a variety of faiths. Their age ranges from 5 to 13, they come from many backgrounds, and from across the Triangle. Over 15% have special needs, and our inclusion program is a signature part of what we do. And we believe that wherever campers are coming from, they can walk away feeling like Israel matters to them.
Israel Is Relevant and Meaningful
At camp, it’s not about any particular beliefs about Israel, it’s really about feeling that Israel is relevant and meaningful and part of everyday life. It’s knowing the difference between American musical chairs and Israeli musical chairs (Israeli-style the chairs are in a line instead of a circle, FYI). It’s knowing that Israeli is not just a desert full of sheep herders and camels. It’s having that Israeli Eurovision song stuck in your head for weeks on end. Don’t believe me? Listen for yourself at this Voice4Israel post – Israeli Songs of the Summer at Camp Shelanu.
Shlichot: The Heart of Our Connection to Israel
A huge part of how we do this is with our shlichim program to bring Israeli camp staff each summer. This year we had four shlichot, the most we’ve ever hosted at Camp Shelanu. Maya, Shelly, Noga, and Tzlil spent three months here, living with local families, being part of our community, and teaching campers about Israel through drama, art, dance, games, Hebrew, and every day conversation. They are the heart of our connection to Israel and the relationships they build with campers is long lasting and impactful.
Feeling Connected to Israel
To me, the beautiful thing about what campers leave with is not the Hebrew word for “nature” or the fascinating Israeli inventions. It reminds me of the Maya Angelou quote, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” When campers leave camp and they see something about Israel online or hear something on the radio, they won’t feel like it’s some foreign country halfway across the world. They’ll say, “Wait, I know someone in Tel Aviv,” and they will feel connected.
Madeline Seltman is from Pittsburgh, PA and has been in the triangle for 9 years. She started at the Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill in 2009 as a social work intern, was the director of Camp Shelanu for 6 years, and now serves as the Director of Engagement. She is also a parent of two Lerner students. You can see more about Camp Shelanu at the Levin JCC.