2008-08-13 / Home

Archeologist, shlichim help campers celebrate Israel 60

By DAVID PORTNOE Voice staff

As the temperature soared past 90, eager young hands dug into the hot sand, seeking beads, pottery shards, pieces of oil lamps, and other windows into the lives of Jews living on the outskirts of Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago.

Digging at Tel Shalom, a life-size archeological site at the JCC Camps at Medford, were Camp Aaron campers (from left), Madison Etkins, Alexa Vecchio, Cara Maniloff, Hayley Marks, and Brooke Schmidt. Digging at Tel Shalom, a life-size archeological site at the JCC Camps at Medford, were Camp Aaron campers (from left), Madison Etkins, Alexa Vecchio, Cara Maniloff, Hayley Marks, and Brooke Schmidt. This scene, resembling an archeological dig in Israel, was taking place at the JCC Camps at Medford. The excavation of "Tel Shalom" was performed by Medford campers learning about life in ancient Israel as well as archaeology.

"Tel Shalom," a full-size Israeli archeological experience, is one of the many Israel-related activities taking place at the JCC Camps this summer. The camp's usual array of Israel activities has been ratcheted up in celebration of Israel 60.

"We want the kids to experience Israel through each of their five senses," said Aaron Greenberg, JCC Camps director. This summer, according to Greenberg, the 1600 campers and nearly 700 staff members will touch the past at the Dig the Past Israeli Archeological Experience, hear the music of rock singer Sheldon Low, smell and taste the foods of Israel, and see the many ways Israel is celebrated through a summer's worth of activities.

Making pitas over an open fire during Israel Week at the JCC Camps were shlichim, emissaries from Israel, (from left), Shiran Lavi, Eyal Oz, Tuhun Desta, and Benny Brest. Making pitas over an open fire during Israel Week at the JCC Camps were shlichim, emissaries from Israel, (from left), Shiran Lavi, Eyal Oz, Tuhun Desta, and Benny Brest. The goal is to experience Israel in a concrete way. "We don't want Israel to just be something they read about," he said.

One of the campers at Tel Shalom was 12-year-old Hayley Marks of Marlton. She found multicolored beads, pieces of broken pots, tiles, and arrows. and said that she learned that the ancient Israelis made decorated pots and beaded jewelry.

Brooke Schmidt, a Voorhees 12- year-old and Aaron camper, marveled at the different colors and shapes of the beads she found, saying, "The people of Israel were really creative."

Darrell Rohl, a professional archeologist who supervised the dig, said that the artifacts being discovered at camp

were reproductions of 2,000- year-old pottery, jars and small vessels, Herodian oil lamps, and other items that would be found in a home outside Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period.

"Tel Shalom represents a Jewish home destroyed by the Roman army in the year 70," said Rohl of the Institute of Archeology Siegfried Horn Museum at Andrews University in Michigan.

For a look at modern Israel, there are four shlichim, Israeli emissaries, on the Medford staff. They are Shiran Lavi, Eyal Oz, Tuhun Desta, and Benny Brest. Oz and Brest are from Arad, Southern New Jersey's Partnership 2000 sister city in Israel.

The shlichim spearhead the Israeli activities at camp, culminating in Israel Week. A recent day found them showing Camp Shalom campers how to make pitas over an open fire.

"The goal is to give campers a true feeling of Israel," said Melissa Perzin, Camp Shalom assistant director. She said that different areas of camp are used to teach about the different places in Israel. The swimming area, for example, serves as the Kinneret, while a "Negev tent" area is used for making pitas over open fires and writing letters to campers in Arad.

"We are trying to show the kids Israeli culture," said Benny Brest, who wants the JCC campers to see a connection between their Jewish camp and life in Israel.

Eyal Oz is spending his second summer at the JCC Camps. A sports specialist at Camp Aaron, he fields many questions about life in Israel. "I try to tell them there is no war. I try to break what the media tells them," said Oz. He said that he and the other shlichim try to show the campers the "beautiful Israel."

"I hope the kids learn that Israel is just like here—only better," said Tuhun Desta. At 21, she hopes that years from now, when her campers are old enough to visit Israel, they say, "Oh, she was right!"

Desta, who came to Israel from Ethiopia when she was four, said that some campers tell her that she does not look Jewish, and she uses that as an opportunity to talk about Ethiopian Jews and her family's journey to Israel.

Sydney Snyderman, a nineyear old camper, said she likes having the Israelis at camp. "I'm learning a lot about Israel," said Snyderman, her hands covered in flour as she made pitas. She said that she has never been to Israel, but hopes to go one day.

Spending the summer at the JCC Camps not only impacts the campers, but also delights the shlichim.

Shiran Lavi, a 21-year-old from Givat Shmuel near Tel Aviv, is learning about life in the United States both at camp and from her local host families. "It surprised me how connected the families are to Israel," said Lavi, a religious woman who has finished her army service and will start college in the fall.

Lavi, who is enjoying her experience in the United States, attends services at Cong. Sons of Israel. She said that religious life in America is very different than in Israel. "In Israel, there is Orthodox and secular," said Lavi. Here, there are many variations. .

Return to top