An Amazing Israel Adventure
by Sam Weiner, 2019 Atzmayim Rosh Aidah
Israel is all around us at camp – infused in camp programming and embodied in our close relationships with the Mishlachat (Israeli staff). A trip to Israel is always an amazing opportunity and I was excited to recently staff the Asperger’s Birthright trip through Shorashim and share the experience with four alumni of our Tikvah and Atzmayim special needs programs.
The itinerary of this unique trip included several activities focused on learning about other people with special needs. The “Invitation to Silence” exhibit in a children’s museum was an experiential tour led by someone who is deaf. Our participants had to use non-verbal communication to gain a better understanding of the Israeli deaf community. We spent an evening getting to know members of EFI, a social organization for Israelis on the high end of the autism spectrum and I was inspired to see our participants forge connections with people from across the world. There were also many elements of this trip that are familiar Birthright experiences: riding on camels, seeing the Kotel, and floating in the Dead Sea. What was remarkable was experiencing this with some young adults who have never been to Israel before. Walking in the Machaneh Yehudah shuk in the heart of Jerusalem with our alumni and seeing their amazement reminded me how incredible it is just to be in Israel.
A huge highlight of the trip for me was the outpouring of love and support from Israeli Ramah staff members. Upon hearing that we were in Israel, several former counselors went out of their way to reconnect with their former chanichim (campers) at various points all around Israel. Seeing the rush of hugs and smiles between the Tikvah alumni and the tzevet (staff) visiting them helped me appreciate the depth of these camp relationships. Israel to the participants on this trip was not just a place to eat great falafel and sleep at a kibbutz. Rather, it is an extension of their Jewish home and a place where they will always be welcomed by friends and mentors. I know the trip is an experience they (and I) will always cherish.