Israeli and other international staff expand horizons for BB campers

Connections are something we seek as humans. They broaden our frame of reference, make us feel a part of something and help us understand the world we live in.

Connections are a big component of camp – allowing kids to connect with friends, Judaism and different opportunities while offering the chance to disconnect from technology and the rigors of daily life. While B’nai B’rith Camp is located on a slice of Devil’s Lake with strong Oregon roots, it also attracts campers from Arizona and 32 other states, as well as counselors from all over the world.

In fact, BB Camp employs approximately 15 international staff members each summer. Over the years staff from more than 20 countries have added depth and dimension to BB Camp programming. The Israeli delegation of counselors (shlichim) gives campers an opportunity to learn firsthand about Israel.

“The best part is that each international staff member brings a little piece of their home country with them, which offers our campers a unique view of cultural diversity and an important and broader worldview perspective,” says Michelle Koplan, executive director of BB Camp. “This new insight brings with it real growth for our campers and staff.” Jemma Helen Taylor, head of the younger unit, created an evening program of the Scottish Highland Games. Jemma, 23, is a primary school teacher in Scotland, UK, and has spent two summers at BB Camp. The Highland Games, which represent activities that take place throughout Scotland, consist of tossing the caber (a log/cardboard camp version), a hammer throw and highland dancing. Campers were split into clans where they worked together to develop a Scottish name, a coat of arms and a tartan (plaid cloth). “I love watching young children try things for the first time, get over their fears, grow in confidence, form great friendships and find themselves as young adults. This is truly a magical experience,” says Jemma. “I was able to introduce the children to my culture, and I love that the kids were shocked to learn how small Scotland/ UK is in comparison to the U.S.”

Every year on Israeli Day the camp is transformed with decorations by the Israeli delegation along with a sense of spirit that results in many painted blue and white faces. Israeli Boot
Camp, pita-making at the fire pit, a falafel lunch, Israeli dancing, “Escape to Israel” and informational stations about life in Israel make it a memorable day. Idan Gross, 23, of Pardesiya, Israel, studied computer science and Arabic, and trained as a medic in the Israeli Army. “I made kids look at things in a different way,” says Idan. BB Camp allowed Idan, along with several other Israelis, the opportunity to visit America; they arrived with custom-made T-shirts reflecting their group. Although he lives with Judaism all around him at home, Idan says that singing the prayers was new to him.

International staff members also enrich camp life with songs, cheers, art and dances from their native lands. In BB Camp’s Havdalah tradition, the song “Everybody Loves Saturday Night” winds down in English before international staff members sing it in their language or accent, and the whole camp joins in. “Languages and accents enhance children’s abilities to communicate and think critically,” says Michelle. The kids love to listen to Matthew Hallgarth read Harry Potter in his real English accent. Matthew, 25, is from Nottingham, England, and has spent the last six summers at BB Camp, most recently as the older unit head.

“The initial response from Americans to any international staff member is always intrigue,” says Matthew. “I love this because the whole point of my being at camp is to offer campers a slightly different perspective, to expose them to different cultures and widen their sphere of influence.”

Additionally, specialty chugims (activities) are woven into camp curriculum to reflect the talent of counselors. International staffers contribute greatly to these chugims whether it be soccer, rugby or, in Emanuela (Mani) Tancsic’s case, jump rope. Mani, 23, is from Taplanszentkereszt, Hungary, and has been impressing and teaching her world-class jump-roping skills at BB Camp for the past three summers. In 2007 her Szombathelyi Jump Rope Club team won third place in the European Championship in the Netherlands. Mani imparts her “skipping” skills, which involve acrobatics, agility, endurance, playfulness and spectacular choreographies, to campers who want to learn jump rope. The most popular skill is double Dutch, which features two jump ropes being turned in opposite directions simultaneously.

Although the international staff comes from a wide range of countries, a common thread is that American-style camps just don’t exist in their home countries. They love the warmth, camaraderie and “magic” of camp that allows them to watch children grow as individuals in the space of a few weeks. Those who are not Jewish leave camp embracing Jewish culture, and those who are Jewish enjoy sharing their Judaism infused by their own culture with young Jewish Americans.

When the campers and staff return home to their daily routines and technology, they have an enhanced view of the world and have made new friends to connect with on Facebook.

Suzye Kleiner resides in Scottsdale and spends her summers at BB Camp. She has enjoyed the positions of camp store manager, photographer and writer.

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