OneFamily’s annual sleepaway Summer Camp culminated an activity packed year for bereaved children aged 8 to 24. Everyone gathered on the last night, gala night, at the Tel Chai courtyard to celebrate the end of camp and the year’s events, a gala evening where emotions ran high and excitement filled the air.
For some it was their first camp for others their tenth. They came from all across the country, from the North to the South, city dwellers, moshav members, each with their own story of sorrow, bereavement and loss.
Their time at camp helped them to heal, to put aside their fears and thoughts, and come to terms with their pain and bond. They learned how to cope and have a lot of fun.For six days, they pursued an array of activities including swimming, rafting, biking, singing, baking, poetry writing and late night bonfires, arts and craft. Volunteer motorcyclists took the campers for hair-raising rides.Accompanied by counsellors, coordinators and therapists, the children attend therapeutic workshops and seminars that allow them to expose their emotions, talk about their thoughts and be there for each other.
On Shabbat, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu the Chief Rabbi of Safed joined the campers to hear their stories, share with them inspirational words and celebrate Shabbat with them, with jokes and songs as well. “When I received the invitation to join you, I immediately said yes. Wherever I go, people come and ask me to bless them. But here, among you, I want you to blessme. Despite the pain you’ve suffered, your will power to continue on with complete faith in G-d – means you have the greatest power to bless others,” he said.
The last night was one of tears, laughter, a time to reflect, a time to cry and a time to smile. Children braved the stage and spoke emotionally of their yearnings for their loved ones and how OneFamily has helped them to move forward. They talked about their bereavement, how it affected their lives and how OneFamily has helped them pick up the pieces.
Doron Shalev, of the Young Boys Division spoke about his brother Sgt. Shahar Shalev, who was critically injured in Operation Protective Edge and succumbed to his wounds weeks later.” Every time he returned home from the army wearing his uniform and carrying a large bag, I would jump on him. He would jump and tickle me, we used to go hiking a lot together, sometimes just the two of us, and sometimes with all the family.”
Doron started 4th grade when he arrived at OneFamily. At first he said he felt like an outsider because everyone knew each other. “ I remember the first most meaningful support group I attended, everyone told their story and why they were there, I did not take part but I listened to everyone. After that activity it was easier for me to connect to everyone and I understood that everyone here lost someone and that they could really understand me. I became more self-confident.”
Rahel Zoldan Dvir of the Younger Girls Division spoke about her father Ido who was murdered in a shooting attack in 2007, when she was just 11 months old. “ I got to know my father through stories, films and photographs, memories people tell me, sadly I was too young to remember anything. “ She revealed how she clings on to a photo of her father holding her, and has hung it in her bedroom.
She also spoke about her mother remarrying and how she calls her second father Gilad “father.” “I have a father who is raising me and for me he truly is like a father, and together at the same time we never forget father Ido. The moments I most miss him are on Shabbat when the children are blessed, even though father Gilad blesses me. On Remembrance Days, and on his and my birthday.” OneFamily for her is about telephone calls and house visits from her counselor, and participating in the meetings, and camps.
Avichai, the brother of Liam Chaya Levy from the Senior Youth Division, was murdered in a shooting attack in 2005. A year later she and her family came away unscathed after terrorists fired 47 bullets at their car. Six months after her brother was killed, Liam arrived at OneFamily and has not missed a camp since.
She spoke of her pain, bereavement and how the terror attack on the family a year later affected her. “My viewpoint on terror and bereavement slightly changed, this time, I was a direct terror victim, another headline was added to my name.” She blamed herself for the attack saying there had been no reason to travel on that day. At OneFamily the counselors and friends in her group helped her to overcome her fears and pain and speak out. “The most difficult issues I had concerning bereavement were the questions – why did it happen, why me, why my family? Why did it happen to everyone here – while we never received an answer, we all share a mutual fate.”
“OneFamily helped me cope with huge milestones in my life. Because I lost my brother, I met tons and tons of new brothers and sisters,” she said.
“There is something about losing a brother that is a hard experience personally, and also on the family level, because it is a void that will never be filled. Something is always missing,” she said. Being part of OneFamily helped her fill that void in a different way, and helped her cope.
Avner (Valeri), the father of Michal Yaskov of the Senior Youth , Older Co-Ed Division, was killed while serving in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield. She was just four months old at the time. “ I was six years old when I came to OneFamily. The beginning was simple and natural, I really felt at home.Since, twelve years have gone by, and in all that time I never missed Summer Camp. I came and stayed. I stayed all those years because here I found a good listener, an address I could share, laugh and be together in my good moments and more complex ones. You could say that here they understand me more than any other place I go to, my friends are the group and also the staff. Sometimes I don’t even have to say it in words, I feel I am understood by the expression in their eyes.”
The parents of 12th grader Shahar Moshe were killed in a shooting attack in 2001. She was with her parents and sister in the car when they were attacked. Her mother Sharon threw her body over her daughters to protect them and prevent them from being shot. She was only eight years old when she lost bother her parents.
“For years I felt that bereavement forced me to cope on two fronts – there is the coping and the loss. There is also coping with the responses from the surrounding society. Coping with your surroundings makes coping with loss even harder. “
At OneFamily she feels an equal, at home. ”No one views my story strangely or tags me in a sort of way, and that is how I can make space for coping with loss. I dared to reveal my feelings and I felt comfortable because of the understanding and the ease that exists here, and doesn’t exist elsewhere.”
OneFamily helped her develop the ability not to be ashamed of her story, “I have opened up and can speak about the attack if necessary, “ she said. Many times people think if it is not a memorial or remembrance day, there is no reason or it is not the time to speak about loved ones murdered in attacks or how much you miss them. “As far as I am concerned it is always the time,” she says.
Raz Amrani’s mother was murdered in a shooting attack 17 years ago when he was 18 months old. Raz said he could not wait to be old enough to participate in OneFamily activities like his older brothers. At the organization’s meetings, seminars, camps and other activities he met “true friends.” OneFamily not only allows him to be himself he said, “but something in the OneFamily framework turns every meeting into a close one. That connection that has remained throughout the years, has provided me with true friends that will continue with me. The special connection with people, the open dialogue in the organization has influenced me also outside the organization’s framework, and taught me to be freer opposite others and feel more relaxed in new meetings.”
The evening ended on a high note! After hearing the emotional speeches there was a sharp transition from listening and gathering one’s thoughts. Emotions poured out, heartfelt tears from the speeches changed to a releasing of tension and pain.
Everyone from the Youth Division took to the stage, dancing, and singing and clapping their hands to one of Israel’s top reggae/hip hop bands, the Hatikva 6. Their music reflects the social, political and religious aspects of Israeli life. Band members connected with the children and youth, quoting OneFamily in their songs.
The emotionally charged summer camp ended, and everyone returned to their homes safely. The feeling of togetherness and renewed strength will accompany the children throughout the coming year.