There’s nothing like the exhilaration of summer camp…the sights, the smells, the boundless energy, the camaraderie, the infectious smiles that crease the faces of young children. But for the 260 youngsters who recently attended OneFamily’s summer getaway in Northern Israel, every camp moment accentuates a unique experience in their lives.
In essence, OneFamily camp is like no other camp in the world! For 6 fun-filled days, these children, ages 7-18 have an opportunity to forget about the tragedies that have wreaked havoc on their family unit. They are victims of terrorism and war. Some survived an actual terror attack… others either lost a mother, father, sibling etc. during the course of a terrorist incident… while a growing number of others lost a father who was killed during the course of his service in the IDF.
OneFamily’s staff of professional counselors works diligently to provide these fresh-faced youngsters with an opportunity to kick-back and enjoy every facet of camp “to the max”! From horse-back riding, swimming, rafting and color war to a midnite kumzitz under the stars and much more.
Ben Berdichev, one of OneFamily’s clinical psychologists reveals, “These kids not only need to attend the camps in July, on Chanukah and Passover, they absolutely need to be with each other. No one can hold back what they feel inside forever. The fun part of the camp is important but just as critical is that this is the ONE place where they can expose their emotions to other kids (and us) who understand what they are going through and be there for each other. There is no other camp like this that I know of anywhere else.”
“We don’t want to go to another camp because everyone is family here,” says, 13 year-old Dafna Shok. “I’ve been going to the OneFamily camp since the first-grade. Because we have all been through the same types of tragedies, this camp allows us to vent, be with each other, and understand each other’s emotions. It’s such a positive experience.”
“The camp is the most anticipated event for us. Only other kids who have experienced the same types of tragedies in their lives can understand each other, talk things out, while at the same time having fun,” adds 17 year-old Eden Mekonen. “The connection between us is hard to explain to the average person.”
For Shai Gillis, 17, who can be considered the most senior “veteran”, having attended the camp since he was 7 years-old, adds emphatically, “These experiences have allowed me to grow as a person. At the beginning, I was always sad and crying. The camps and on-going help from the counselors and psychologists allow people like me and the other kids to open up to each other so you can release what hurts inside and move forward in your life. I honestly do not where I would be today without OneFamily.”
At the camp’s emotionally-charged general assembly ceremony at Kibbutz Tel Hai, Yishai, Dror and Uri Weinberg, whose father Dror was killed battling terrorists in Hebron 13 years ago, summed up what the summer camp has meant to them over the years. “For us and everyone in the camp, OneFamily has been like a home. A home that radiates freedom and lets you be who you are. It’s a home where it’s OK to cry or laugh…a home where it’s OK to engage in black humor, a place where it’s perfectly fine to fall apart a bit,” Yishai reveals. “Years go by and we all grow up. Some of us have reached the age where we will be leaving our ‘home’ (camp), be drafted into the army and soon will be building our own homes. Thus, parting ways is never easy. And yet, our ‘home’ will always be inside of us wherever we go.”
So while ‘summer camp’ has officially come to end, they are already anticipating their year-round activities with OneFamily. The youngsters meet and greet each other during the course of the year, as part of OneFamily’s on-going Youth Projects. The Youth Division is divided into 6 different groups according to age and religious status. Each group features a coordinator and volunteers who are daily contact with them either by phone or through home visits. The volunteers also partake in the children’s birthday celebrations, where many camp mates regularly gather to enhance the fun.
“Why should we be sad that camp just ended, when we know we will be together again real soon,” Daphna says with a bounce in her step.
OneFamily sponsors sleep-away camps for hundreds of youngsters during the course of the calendar year in July, Chanukah and Passover.